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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 25, 2007

Toy companies refocus on safety

By Mark Chediak
McClatchy-Tribune News Service


  • Be informed. Sign up with the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site for toy recall alerts at www.cpsc.gov.

  • Be careful about purchasing cheap earrings, bracelets and necklaces, popular among preteen and teenage girls, says Dr. Mark Rosen, head of the lead program at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. Those accessories cheap and attractive have been shown to contain lead.

  • Purchase wooden, unpainted toys or toys that use lead-free paint, says Alanna Stang, executive editor of Cookie magazine.

  • For small children, choose toys that don't have small pieces.

  • Make sure toys are age-appropriate, says Sheliah Gilliland, spokeswoman for eToys. Toys are rated by age based on safety not a child's ability.

  • Supervise children. If there is more than one child, make sure their toys don't get mixed up.

  • Check toys often to make sure they are not broken or cracked, said Patricia Mikelson, vice president of corporate communications for Highlights for Children.

  • Don't focus solely on lead paint, says toy store owner Sheri Gurock. "Avoid toys that have sharp points or corners. Make sure that strings and cords are not long enough to wrap around a child's neck. If a toy requires batteries, make sure that the battery compartment is securely closed at all times."

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  • www.icandothatgames.com

  • www.parents-choice.org

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    Since this summer, millions of Chinese-made toys have been recalled for lead-based paint and other potential dangers signaling that all may not be well in Santa's workshop this year.

    With recalls expected to continue deep into the holiday season, parents may be wondering: "What's safe to buy now?"

    To alleviate parents' concerns, retailers and toy makers say they've stepped up safety efforts in advance of the upcoming holiday rush, when about half of all toys are sold. Stores are listing product recalls on their Web pages and posting notices on store shelves.

    Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us and other chains say they are also working closely with government and industry groups and conducting additional tests on toys available this holiday season.

    If an item is recalled, stores say, they are quick to purge the product or block its sale at the register.

    In addition, Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, which has borne the brunt of this year's recalls, recently said it is tightening safety standards and testing practices after having recalled more than 20 million toys.

    The ultimate effect on toy sales this holiday is anyone's guess.

    "Our best advice to parents is to keep track of the recalls," said Patty Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency charged with safeguarding the $22 billion U.S. toy industry.

    Parents wanting to avoid Chinese toys altogether may find there are few remaining options, said Don Mays, a consumer product safety expert at Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

    "Eighty percent of (U.S.) toys are made in China, so unless you want to buy your child a puppy for Christmas, you are pretty much stuck with buying toys from China," said Mays, the union's senior director of product safety planning.

    Along with keeping track of the constant stream of recall news, Mays suggests do-it-yourself lead-testing kits sold at hardware stores could serve as another potential aid.

    The kits, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission recently said are unreliable, are not perfect, Mays admits. Still, he said, "they can be a good screening tool to see if there is an excessive level of lead in toys."

    "At the least," he added, "it would give them more information than they have now."

    • • •

    Try 'Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That!'

    Looking for a lead-free game that encourages interactivity between child and parent? One option could be "Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That!"

    The game is made for kids ages 4 to 8, was designed by the Seattle-based I Can Do That! Games company. It challenges children to complete activities that combine movement and balance with reading skills and cooperation.

    It was chosen this month for a Parents' Choice Gold award, selected by a panel of educators, scientists, performing artists, librarians, parents and kids.

    "Discovering new things we can do is energizing," said Claire Green, president of Parents' Choice Foundation. For youngsters, accomplishment is essential to learning. 'See what I made today?' and 'I read this myself!' are the cornerstones that make this game a Parents' Choice Gold Award winner."

    The game has also been chosen for an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Lead-Free Platinum award, and named one of Dr. Toy's "10 Best Creative Products."

    Associated Press