December 27, 2013

Hazardous Water-Expanding Toys Are Recalled

Jelly BeadZ, Jumbo BeadZ, Magic Growing Fruity Fun … boy, do those toys sound like fun. Boy, are they dangerous. So much so that their manufacturer, Doodlebutt, has recalled them from the market.

In its announcement of the recall, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) explained that the water-absorbing toys expand so much that they pose a fatal threat if a kid swallows one. Sometimes, surgery is required to remove the expanded toy.

As explained on AboutLawsuits.com, for a while the CPSC has been removing certain water-expanding toys from the market. No injuries have been associated with the Doodlebutt toys, but the CPSC is aware of at least three incidents in which similar toys were ingested, including at least one death.

The recalled water-absorbing polymer-balls are promoted as being able to grow as much as eight times larger than their original size. Jelly Beadz were sold in packages of eight to 12 water balls ranging in different sizes and colors.

Magic Growing Fruity Fun balls came in the shape of apples, bananas, butterflies, cherries, grapes, pineapples, roses and strawberries, also in different colors. The label says they’re “For Kidz,” “All Ages,” “Bouncy and Beautiful,” “Colorfast,” “Non Toxic” and “Safe for the Environment” … but not, apparently, for your kids.

The recalled Doodlebutt products were sold through Amazon.com from February 2012 through September 2013. If you have any, get rid of them, or restrict their use to older kids who won’t ingest them. To get a refund, call Doodlebutt at (239) 313-9779 or email the company at whitmana@live.com.

Other water-expanding toys made by different companies also have been yanked from the market. Because they’re small and colorful, infants and toddlers like to put them in their mouths; if swallowed, they can cause bowel obstruction, vomiting and life-threatening injuries. Sometimes they’re not indicated on X-rays or during exams, which requires exploratory surgery for removal.

According to the journal Pediatrics, these toys are of growing concern. The publication recalled the case of one 8-month-old who developed complete bowel obstruction after swallowing a superabsorbent polymer ball advertised to grow as much as 400 times its original size.

That child was playing with Water Balz, designed to look like characters from “Despicable Me.” They were recalled last year.

In September, according to AboutLawsuits, some 30,000 Cosmo Beads and Monster Science Growing Spider polymer balls were recalled for safety concerns. August saw the recall of about 15,000 Be Amazing! Colossal Water Ball toys.

Clearly, these products do not belong near young children.

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November 30, 2012

Our Annual Hazardous Toy Review

For the last couple of years in advance of the holiday season, we have blogged about choosing safe toys here and here.

Last week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) released its 27th annual report, “Trouble in Toyland” in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Here are some highlights to help you be a popular Santa’s helper while protecting the small fry from danger.

Some hazards never change: size (so small they present a risk for choking); toxins (lead, cadmium, phthalates); magnets (we recently blogged about their gastrointestinal danger.) Others are new: high volume of sound.

Among the more widely available toys deemed dangerous in “Trouble in Toyland” are plastic play food sold at Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us (choking hazard) and Dora the Explorer guitar (hearing risk) sold at Target. For the full list, see the report.

In general, beware of toys posing these common hazards:

1. Choking. It’s the most common cause of toy-related deaths. According to the CPSC, from 2005-2009 at least 41 children choked to death on balloons, toys or toy parts.


  • Don’t buy small toys or toys with small parts for children younger than 3. If it can pass through a toilet paper tube, a toy or part is too small for toddlers and babies and any child who still puts things in his or her mouth.

  • Read and heed warning labels: Toys with small parts intended for children ages 3 to 6 are required to include an explicit choking hazard warning.

  • Never give young children small balls or balloons: They can block a child's airway. Balls for children younger than 6 must be larger than 1.75 inches in diameter. Never give latex balls to children younger than 8.


2. Lead and Other Toxic Chemicals. Some toys and children’s cosmetics may contain lead or other toxic chemicals, including phthalates. Most such chemicals are being phased out of toys, but older toys may still contain them.

Avoid toys made of PVC plastic, which can contain toxic phthalates; they pose developmental hazards. Choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead. High levels of lead paint have been found on toys, as well as in vinyl lunch boxes, bibs and in children's costume jewelry. All lead should be removed from a child's environment, especially lead jewelry and toys that can be swallowed. Use a home lead tester available at hardware stores to see if anything in your home presents this danger.

Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene or dibutyl phthalate.

3. Magnets. New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, darts, magnetic jewelry and other items can fall out and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one, they can cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.

4. Watch or "Button" Batteries. Keep watch or "button" batteries away from children. If swallowed, the battery acid can cause fatal internal injuries.

5. Noise. Children's ears are sensitive. If a toy seems too loud to you, it’s probably too loud for a child. Remove the batteries from loud toys or cover the speakers with tape.

6. Strangulation. They include mobiles, cords and drawstrings. Keep them out of the reach of children in cribs and remove them before the baby is five months old or can push himself or herself up.

Remove knobs and beads from cords longer than one foot to prevent the cords from tangling into a dangerous loop. Don’t buy clothing with drawstrings on the hood—they can get caught on fixed objects like playground equipment and pose a strangulation hazard.

Tips for keeping kids safer:


  • Accessorize. Children should wear protective gear when riding bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates. If your gift list includes them, also give a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards.

  • Stay informed of recalls. The CPSC recalls numerous toys and children's products each year. Find out what’s been recalled here. You can also sign up to receive email alerts of new recalls.

  • Visit this interactive website with tips for safe toy shopping. It also has recall information and is accessible via smartphone.


To report a dangerous toy, email the CPSC, file your comments on its website or call (800) 638-2772.

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August 24, 2012

Magnetic Toys for Grownups Prove Irresistible, and Dangerous, to Kids

The small, strong magnetic blocks are marketed for grownups only, something to fiddle with at the office, but they're proving irresistible to kids, and have caused a string of serious injuries. So how do you protect children from something that isn't intended as a kids' toy?

Several years ago, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) raised a public alarm about the dangers posed to youngsters from magnetic toys. Kids, and not just babies, but those “old enough to know better” were known to have swallowed pieces of the popular desk-top accessory.

The magnets bunch together in the gastrointestinal tract, twisting or pinching the intestines, causing blockages, perforation or infection that can require surgery. Some kids have died.

Late last year, the CPSC ratcheted up its warning. “An increasing number of incident reports to the … CPSC indicate that high-powered magnets continue to be a safety risk to children,” its report said. “From toddlers to teens, children are swallowing these magnets and the consequences are severe.” The agency got one incident report in 2009, seven in 2010 and 14 through October 2011. They involved children from 18 months to 15 years old; 17 involved magnet ingestion and 11 required surgical removal. “When a magnet has to be removed surgically,” the agency said, “it often requires the repair of the child's damaged stomach and intestines.”

According to Reuters, the commission has received more than a dozen reports since then of children ingesting the magnets. Many required surgery.

So last month the CPSC effectively said, “Enough,” and ordered a halt to sale of Buckyballs and Buckycubes magnetic toys, deeming them a serious hazard. It was the commission’s first stop-sale order in 11 years.

The commission ordered distributor Maxfield & Oberton Holdings to halt sales because injuries to children who had swallowed them were on the rise. “[W]arnings are ineffective,” the CPSC said.

Maxfield & Oberton must stop importing and distributing the Chinese-made magnets. They also must issue refunds, according to the complaint, and direct retailers to stop distributing the toys.

More than 2 million Buckyballs and at least 200,000 Buckycubes have been sold in the U.S.

According to AboutLawsuits.com, Maxfield & Oberton and the commission had negotiated a Buckyball recall in May 2010 as a result of labels that read for “Ages 13+”; the commission said federal toy standards for powerful loose magnets may not be sold to children younger than 14. And in November, Maxfield & Oberton and the CPSC created an educational campaign to inform consumers that the magnets were intended only for adults.

In June, a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics added fuel to the swallowed-magnet fire. It reinforced the need for medical practitioners and parents to understand the dangers of magnet toys. And last month, Battat Inc., manufacturer of the Magnabild Magnetic Building Sets, was fined $400,000 for allegedly failing to report problems with its magnetic toys, which were blamed for the death of at least one child.

This month, in only its second such action in 11 years, the CPSC filed an administrative complaint against Zen Magnets LLC, alleging that its products contain defects in the design, packaging, warnings and instructions, and pose a substantial risk of injury to the public.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the firm from selling Zen Magnets Rare Earth Magnet Balls, notify the public of the defect and offer consumers a full refund.

Eleven manufacturers and/or importers of sets of small, powerful, individual magnets voluntarily have agreed to the CPSC request to stop their manufacture, import, distribution and sale. Zen Magnets and Maxfield & Oberton are the only companies that have refused to comply, to date.

As noted by the Associated Press, attempting to remove a product from the market is a rare move for the CPSC, which prefers to work cooperatively with companies to stop the sale of hazardous products.

The commission's aggressive action raises questions about governmental authority to stop companies from selling products that, if used properly, are safe and legal. The Zen Magnets website posted this objection: "How much societal damage results from the slippery slope of absolving parents from the responsibility to read warnings?"

It’s a fair point. But it’s also clear that these products are unusually unsafe. Until they are removed from the market, the CPSC advises parents who suspect that their child has swallowed magnets:


  • Seek immediate medical attention.

  • Watch for these symptoms—abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

  • Remember that in X-rays, multiple magnetic pieces may appear as a single object.

  • Before buying toys, see our checklist for toy safety.


If you want to report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call the CPSC’s hotline at (800) 638-2772 or go online to SaferProducts.gov. Additional consumer product safety information is available here, and you can join an e-mail subscription list for recalls, hazardous product notices, etc., here.

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November 26, 2011

Read This Before You Shop for Any Toys This Year

For 26 years the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) has issued a report about toy safety. We wrote about it last year, and this year’s summary, “Trouble in Toyland,” was released earlier this week. It identifies hazardous toys and offers safety guidelines for consumers. Specific toys are listed in the complete report.

CALPIRG’s work has resulted in 150-some recalls of toys that posed hazards for a range of reasons, including strangulation, choking, toxins, noise and sharp edges. But as a consumer watchdog, the organization knows the work isn’t done. Although championing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008 for its advances in toy safety, CALPIRG also notes that this year, “policymakers delayed implementation of its most stringent lead standard rules and enacted some narrow exceptions,” and we concur.

That said, here’s what you need to know as you embark on the toy-buying season.

Lead
Lead is especially problematic for the central nervous system; childrens’ developing brains are particularly at risk. Seven toys exceed levels CALPIRG finds excessive (the organization’s threshold is much lower than the CPSIA standard).

Phthalates
Phthalates are of concern particularly for premature delivery and reproductive defects. The CPSIA has banned toys containing three phthalates and set temporary limits on three others, while tests continue. CALPIRG found two toys that laboratory testing showed to exceed limits allowed by the CPSIA by 42 and 77 times, respectively.

Choking
Choking is a major cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. CALPIRG found several toys that violated standard intended for children younger than 3, and several others that support its call for the small parts test to be made less permissive. Some toys intended for older children failed to provide choking hazards warnings required for small parts or small balls.

Noise
One-third of Americans with hearing loss can attribute it in part to noise. One in 5 U.S. children will have some degree of hearing loss by the time they are 12. CALPIRG found three toys it considers too noisy.

Among CALPIRG’s suggestions for improving toy safety are:


  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) should review and, if necessary, expand its definition of a “small part” or “small toy” to include parts and toys that are larger than the current standard, but have been shown to pose a choking hazard to children.

  • Cadmium should be limited in children’s jewelry. See our recent post about the dangers of this toxic chemical.

  • Lead and phthalate standards in toys should be vigorously enforced, and lead standards should be lowered.

  • The CPSC must ensure that its product incident database it provides the information consumers need to make informed choices in the marketplace.
Consumers must realize that not all toys are tested, and not all toys on store shelves meet CPSC standards. There is no comprehensive list of potentially hazardous toys. Examine toys carefully for potential dangers before you make a purchase.

It's also a good idea to screen all children for exposure to lead via a simple and inexpensive blood test at a physician’s office or public health agency.

Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at www.cpsc.gov and to www.saferproducts.gov or call the CPSC at 1-800-504-7923.

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October 3, 2011

Choosing Safe Toys

Toys might be playthings, but protecting your kids from their dangerous effects is serious business. The 2-year-old Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act helped protect little ones from exposure to lead and phthalates in toys, but now there’s another concern: cadmium.

As described by WebMD, it’s also a toxic metal used by manufacturers instead of its predecessors. Regulators and health and safety advocates are lobbying to lop cadmium from the list of toy ingredients, but the question remains: What’s next?

It’s impossible to create a “clean room” for kids, nor would you want to raise a child so divorced from real life. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to reduce exposure to substances that can impair health and to minimize the negative effects some toys have on the environment.

Healthy Stuff is a consumer guide/database that identifies safe toys. It also offers information about testing if any has been conducted. The Consumer Product Safety Commission posts recalls online, as does Recalls.gov. If a toy you own is recalled, follow the company’s instructions on how to get a safe replacement.

Otherwise, here are a few tips to promote fun and reduce the chances of a toy causing more trouble than it’s worth. For everybody.

  • Choose natural over synthetic. Opt for toys made of solid woods with no finish or a nontoxic finish, and organic cotton, wool, felt, and other textiles.
  • Recycle household items. Kids are happy when their imaginations are encouraged to run free. An empty box, a set of stainless steel bowls, empty rolls of paper towels can become a fort, an orchestra, an arsenal of gentle weapons.
  • Avoid cheap jewelry and kids’ cosmetics. These products generally carry a higher health risk. Kid jewelry often contains high lead or cadmium levels and kid cosmetics often are laden with questionable chemicals.
  • Purge plastics. It’s difficult – OK, impossible – but strive to buy less plastic. And when you do, look for those labeled Nos. 1, 2, 4, or 5 within the triangular, recycle arrow icon usually found on the bottom of the product. If there’s no label, call the manufacturer.
  • Buy less. Buy fewer toys. It’s better for the planet and saves you money.
  • Spend more for what you do buy. High-quality toys last much longer and can be enjoyed by successive users.
  • Read labels. What’s the toy made of? Where was it made? Google the manufacturer and/or the toy’s name to find out what other users say.
  • Buy local. The shorter the distance a toy travels from manufacturer to user, the less the greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re buying foreign products, remember that Europe, Canada and Japan have more stringent toy regulations.

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March 1, 2011

Republicans aim to cut financing for toy hazard database

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act after a flood of unsafe toys from China hit the U.S. market. Less than three years later, however, the new Republican-led House of Representatives wants to roll back those protections by cutting $3 million in financing for a database where consumers could report product hazards and the public could check products before buying them.

It also wants to scale back back the requirement for third-party testing for lead and other hazards in products sold to children, while some GOP representatives have even proposed limiting the new protections to products for children under 6 or 7, rather than up to 12 years of age.

As part of this latest campaign against government regulation, some businesses warn that (a) the hazard database would open the door to bogus charges and lawsuits; (b) third-party testing of children’s products is too costly; and (c) some products should not be tested at all for things like lead because children are unlikely to eat them.

The New York Times, which is highly critical of the new campaign, calls the concern over frivolous lawsuits “a predictable canard,” noting that the database was designed with safeguards to avoid bogus claims. In an editorial, the paper noted that the small increase in costs due to testing is more than offset by the damage incurred by families and society when a child is poisoned or hurt by a dangerous toy, and that exposing older children to similar risks is unacceptable.

It also points out that there is still a lot of lead out there. Since the new law was passed in 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued 26 lead-related toy recalls.

Source: The New York Times

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November 25, 2010

A Checklist for Safe Toy Buying for the Holidays

Here are some tips from U.S. Public Interest Research Group for buying safe toys. Check out their website for more tips and links to where you can report dangerous toys to help protect others.

Avoid Common Hazards:

1. Choking

Choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 41 children aspirated or choked to death from 2005-09 on balloons, toys, or toy parts.

Bigger is better: Do not buy small toys or toys with small parts for children under 3. If a toy or part of a toy can pass through a toilet paper tube, don't buy it for a child under 3, or any child who still puts things in his/her mouth.

Read and heed warning labels: Toys with small parts intended for children between 3 and 6 are required by law to include an explicit choke hazard warning.

Never give young children small balls or balloons: Small balls, balloons and pieces of broken balloons are particularly dangerous, as they can completely block a child's airway. Balls for children under 6 years old must be more than 1.75 inches in diameter. Never give latex balls to children younger than 8 years old.


2. Magnetic Toys With Powerful Magnets

New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, toy darts, other toys, and magnetic jewelry can fall out of small toys and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one magnet, the magnets can attract each other in the body (in the stomach and intestines) and cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.


3. Watch and "Button" Batteries

Keep watch or "button" batteries away from children. If swallowed, the battery acid can cause fatal internal injuries.


4. Noise

Children's ears are sensitive. If a toy seems too loud for your ears, it is probably too loud for a child. Take the batteries out of loud toys or cover the speakers with tape.


5. Strangulation Hazards

Mobiles: Keep mobiles out of the reach of children in cribs and remove them before the baby is five months old or can push him/herself up.

Cords: Remove knobs and beads from cords longer than one foot to prevent the cords from tangling into a dangerous loop.

Drawstrings: Clothing with drawstrings on the hood can get caught on fixed objects like playground equipment and pose a strangulation hazard.


6. Lead and Other Toxic Chemicals

Some children's toys and cosmetics may contain lead or other toxic chemicals, including phthalates. While most lead and phthalates are being phased out of toys beginning in 2009, older toys may still contain them.

Toys with PVC Plastic: Avoid toys made of PVC plastic which could contain toxic phthalates posing developmental hazards; choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.

Lead: The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), PIRG and children's health groups have found high levels of lead paint on toys, as well as high levels of lead in vinyl lunchboxes and bibs, and in children's costume jewelry. All lead should be removed from a child's environment, especially lead jewelry and other toys that can be swallowed. To test jewelry for lead, use a home lead tester available at the hardware store, or simply throw costume jewelry made with such heavy metals away.

Other chemicals: Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate.

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November 23, 2010

186,000 visits to ER due to defective toys, CPSC says

Kids under 15 made 186,000 visits to the ER due to defective toys, according to figures released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). But there’s also good news in the latest CPSC report: deaths resulting from use of toys are down, as are toy recalls. But toy related injuries, particularly lacerations and contusions, are up.

CPSC says the number of toy recalls dropped to 44 in fiscal year 2010, down from 50 in 2009 and 172 in 2008. It credits its new toy safeguards -- establishing the lowest lead content and lead paint limits in the world; converting the voluntary toy standard into a mandatory standard; and working with Customs and Border Protection data systems to better track shipments of dangerous products from other countries -- as helping to restore confidence in the safety of toys sold in the U.S.

Toy-related fatalities also decreased; in 2009. CPSC received reports of 12 deaths to children under the age of 15, down from 24 toy-related fatalities both in 2007 and 2008. Riding toys were associated with almost 60 percent of the reported deaths in 2009: three with tricycles, two with powered riding toys and two with nonmotorized riding toys or unspecified riding toys.

On the negative side, 2009 saw a massive recall of Mattel Inc.’s Fisher-Price toys, with more than 10 million products targeted, including infant toys, high chairs and toy cars. These products were recalled for many different reasons, including choking hazards and protruding parts.

Source: Bloomberg Business Week

You can read the complete CPSC report here.


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July 24, 2010

Getting the Word Out on Dangerous Kids' Products

Many kids' products -- cribs, high chairs, strollers and more -- last for years and years, which can be a tragic problem if the product turns out to have a hidden danger that only becomes obvious long after purchase. Now there's a law intended to deal with the issue.

As of this summer, manufacturers of children's products have to comply with new safety requirements per the “Danny Keysar Child Product Safety Notification Act,” named after a child who was strangled to death in a defective crib. The act requires manufacturers of children products to “establish and maintain a registration card program,” reports Lisa Parker of NBC Chicago. The registration cards will be included with the product and the program will keep records for at least 6 years of consumers who do register. This will facilitate notification of any recalls or safety concerns regarding the product.

The act, which took effect on June 28, 2010, affects the following product categories, according to Parker: Full-size and other cribs, Toddler beds, High chairs, Booster chairs, Hook-on chairs, Bath seats, Gates, Play yards, Stationary activity centers, Infant carriers, Strollers, Walkers, Swings, Bassinets, Cradles, Children’s folding chairs, Changing tables, Infant bouncers, Infant bathtubs, Portable toddler bed rails, and Infant slings.

An announcement of the act going into effect can be found on the Kids In Danger website.

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June 3, 2010

Watch Out for Button Batteries and Kids

Tiny lithium batteries the size and shape of buttons can kill or cause severe injury in a child who swallows one, doctors are reporting.

The batteries, which are found in remote controls, watches, and other home electronics and toys, cause a chemical reaction when swallowed that can burn through the delicate tissues in the neck. Kids sometimes swallow them when they take apart a toy, find the battery, and think it's candy.

While rare, a death was reported in one child where the battery burned through the esophagus and attacked the aorta. Another child was left with a lifelong whisper from vocal cord damage. Another had to have feeding tubes and multiple surgeries for the damage to the gastric tract.

The journal Pediatrics reports the dangers of ingestion of lithium batteries by infants, which can and has caused deaths, writes Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times.

The lead author of the medical journal article on this subject, Dr. Litovitz, says there is a “tight timeline” in which to rescue children from the injuries caused by lithium ingestion: while the batteries start causing severe damages as quickly as within 2 hours of ingestion, the problem is difficult to be diagnosed because small children cannot verbally communicate, and their symptoms (which can be loss of appetite, vomiting, coughing up blood) are nonspecific.

Pediatricians and parents are working to raise awareness of the dangers of small lithium batteries and to urge manufacturers of electronics to secure the battery in all electronic devices, not just toys. A woman whose 18-month-old daughter died after ingesting a lithium battery said that “there should be warnings on every item the batteries are in. They are in greeting cards and children’s books that talk. They’re everywhere.”

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April 22, 2010

Parents of Autistic Kids Need to Check Swingsets Carefully

For many children with autistic spectrum disorders who are learning to deal with autistic mannerisms, riding on a swing is a daily therapeutic activity whose effectiveness in improving sensory integration has been documented in scientific studies (see a ScienceDaily story published in April, 2008). However, a recent paper reports a potential hazard in these therapeutic swings that may cause eye injuries, according to the New York Times’ Roni Rabin.

Rabin cites a study appearing in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology that describes two eye injury cases linked to the patients’ use of swings. In both cases, young autistic children presented to the hospital multiple times with small foreign objects in the eye that were found to be metallic fragments. Noticing that the multiple occurrences pointed to a common cause, the paper’s author, Dr. Dean Bonsall of the University of Cincinnati, took extensive history of the boys’ daily activities and discovered their frequent use of a swing.

Dr. Bonsall hypothesized that wear and tear of the swings caused small metal fragments to become dislodged and fall into children’s eyes. He recommended protective eyewear for one of the patients, which prevented further recurrence of the injury.

The study explains that the metallic foreign bodies in the eyes “leave a white scar and may become secondarily infected and lead to vision loss,” therefore requiring timely medical attention. However, autistic children, especially those who are non-verbal, often have difficulty communicating discomfort of foreign objects in their eyes and therefore can fall victim to delayed diagnosis.

Dr. Bonsall encourages parents of autistic children who use swings to give them protective eyewear or wrap the swing mechanism in a cloth.

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December 4, 2009

Are Your Children's Toys Safe?

According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report, in 2007, there were 22 toy-related deaths in the United States, and in 2008 there were 19. That translates to at least one death every month in from dangerous toys – toys that should provide enjoyment but instead have hidden death traps.

The causes of deaths include, among others, airway obstruction, strangulation, and blunt force. Dangerous toys also account for other serious injuries like laceration and burns, as well as more than 170,000 emergency room visits annually for injuries to children 15 years or younger, according to Don Keenan, Atlanta attorney and child advocate.

Don Keenan has put together a list of Top 10 Dangerous Toys for 2009, available on his website, Keenan’s Kids Foundation. He also has a link to CPSC’s list of recalled toys.

Notably, in Don Keenan’s introduction to the Top 10 Dangerous Toys list, he cautions consumers that many of these dangerous toys, although banned or recalled by the CPSC, still made their way onto the shelves in stores like Target or Walmart. The recalled toys are also easily available on the Internet at sites like eBay or in used toy stores. Other toys that were not recalled also may not be completely safe – in February 2009, the government enacted stringent standards, but Keenan’s Kids Foundation estimates that as many as 5% of toys currently on the market probably do not meet the new safety standards (such as requiring all children products to be tested by a third-party lab to ensure they meet safety standards, and banning the use of phthalates, a plastic softener, or products that contain trace amounts of lead).

Therefore, in this holiday gift-buying season, parents are urged to use extra caution in selecting safe toys, by carefully reading the safety warning label to see if the toy is age-appropriate for your children, and comparing against the CPSC’s recall list.

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May 20, 2009

Water-Based Face Paints Recalled

The FDA announced a voluntary recall of face paints by the distributor of the products, Oriental Trading Co., Omaha, Nebraska, reports Miranda Hitti of WebMD Health News. The recall decision was made after reports of adverse skin reactions from exposures that all occurred on the same day at an organized event. Children exposed to various colors of the face paints experienced adverse skin reactions, including rashes, itchiness, burning sensation and swelling on the area where the product was applied. Results of tests by an FDA laboratory indicated significant microbial contamination in most of the face paints.

The FDA is advising consumers to stop using these face paints, which were manufactured by a Shanghai, China company. The agency has also published a complete list of face paint products in this recall.

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December 9, 2008

Toy Makers Prosecuted for Lead Content

The state of California and the city of Los Angeles brought a lawsuit against 17 toymakers a year ago over toxic lead content, and on Dec. 4, settled with nine of the defendants, as reported by Los Angeles Times’ Marc Lifsher. The settlement terms include a $1.8 million payment from the nine toy companies, as well as speedy actions to reduce level of lead in their products, including “toys, lunchboxes and novelty items imported from China and other developing nations.”

Lead has long been known to be toxic to human bodies, threatening the cognitive and nervous system and causing blood and brain disorders. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, lead poisoning is especially dangerous for children under 6 “because they are undergoing rapid neurological and physical development.” And even the slightest trace of lead could prove toxic; the Times article quoted Los Angeles City Attorney Delgadillo’s comment that “scientists have determined that there is no safe level of lead.”

The agreement reached between the prosecutors and the toymakers requires compliance with new federal lead standards beginning on Dec. 1, which “will safeguard California’s children from lead-contaminated toys this Christmas,” said California Attorney General Jerry Brown, who filed the lawsuit.

The $1.8 million payout from the nine companies includes an amount of $550,000 that will go into a "fund to test toys and improve outreach during future recalls."

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November 21, 2007

More on Lead Poisoning: Even Small Amounts of Lead Linked To Reduced IQ

A newly-released study, done over the course of six years by researchers at Cornell University, finds that even small amounts of lead in children's blood (below CDC guidelines for acceptable levels) make reduced IQ much more likely. This correlation holds true even when other factors that affect IQ--such as other environmental factors or genetics--are accounted for.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the maximum allowable blood-lead level is 10 micrograms per deciliter. But the new Cornell study focused on kids with between 0 and 10 micrograms per deciliter, and found that those in the 0-5 range had average IQs of about five points higher than those in the 5-10 range. The unavoidable conclusion is that even when lead poisoning is less than what the CDC deems harmful, it can still have significant negative effects on children's developing brains.

Those who are poor are at greater risk for lead poisoning, as lead is often found in the paint of old or poorly-maintained buildings. Lead poisoning has been in the news lately, because of the Mattel recall and other toy safety issues. This very morning, New York State recalled children's jewelry from stores including Michael's and Big Lots because they contained hazardous levels of lead. It is important to remember that houses are the most common source of lead-related brain damage.

The researchers involved in this study had previously published another, similar study in 2003. They found then, as they did again now, that blood-lead levels are related "inversely and significantly" to IQ. Clearly, this is a serious problem that needs to be recognized and addressed.

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August 15, 2007

Mattel's Recall and Lead Paint

Mattel has had to issue a second recall of its toys, right on the heels of its first, thanks to hazardous amounts of lead-based paint in the toys. This recall shines an embarrassing light on Mattel's standards for consumer safety and public accountability.

If your child owns one of the 7.3 million playsets or 1.5 million toy cars recalled by Mattel in the United States, call Mattel at 1-800-916-4997 for the cars or 1-888-597-6597 for the other toys or visit Mattel's website.

Here's what you can do about protecting your child from lead paint:

-Keep in mind that children under 5 are more vulnerable to lead poisoning

-Test children for lead exposure

-Keep in mind that buildings, particularly older ones and those in low-income areas, are a much more common source of lead poisoning than toys.

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