Special Segment: The Toy Test

November 23, 2009 (CHICAGO) By Cheryl Burton and Ross Weidner Lawmakers also banned certain kinds of chemicals called "phthalates" from those items. So as the holiday season approaches, ABC7 put the new standards to the test.

"I just care about what my son plays with," said Stephanie Thomas.

Thomas worries about what chemicals might be hiding in her son Eli's toys.

"When you're a child you have such a small little body and any little bit of toxin in there can have such a major effect," said Thomas.

Thomas tries to keep her son safe by buying wooden toys or brands her local toy store says don't contain toxic chemicals.

"Parents shouldn't have to be scientists," said Brian Imus, Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

Brian Imus runs PIRG, a watchdog group that's coming out with a new toy safety report on Tuesday. They've tested dozens of toys to see if they meet the new standards.

ABC7 followed along as Imus bought 15 toys at Target in the South Loop.

Imus uses an XRF analysis gun to see what the toys are made of.

Most of the toys PIRG bought at target came up clean. But three of the toys had small amounts of lead -- much less than the current safety standard but enough for the gun to detect.

"Really, children shouldn't be exposed to lead at all," said Imus.

This year, Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission cut the old standard for lead in toys of 600 parts per million in half to 300 parts per million and banned six types of phthalates, chemicals that have been shown to cause developmental problems in children.

"Parents shouldn't just assume that there's somebody somewhere testing all the toys before they end up on the store shelf," said Imus.

During a round of testing, PIRG didn't find any lead in toys they tested from a Family Dollar. But in the charm on a necklace from Claire's the XRF gun detected more than 4,400 per million of lead. That's nearly 15 times more than the new standard.

Claire's told ABC7 that they've tested the necklace twice-both before shipping and at their distribution centers in October 2009. It passed both times. So PIRG retested the necklace twice and both times it showed more than 4,000 parts per million.

ABC7 also ran our own toy test. We bought at random three toys from this Toys R Us in Niles, three from Target in Lombard, and three more from a Dollar Tree in Markham. We took our toys to Stat Analysis, a lab on Chicago's West Side to check them for lead.

And there's good news. The lab didn't find lead in any of the toys we tested. Click here to read ABC7's lab results

PIRG also had the lab test 15 new toys for toxic phthalates. None of those toys contained the banned chemicals.

This was just the latest round of PIRG's testing. Since August, they've tested more than a hundred toys for various chemicals. In general, the toys are coming up clean.

"I think it's improving," said Dr. Peter Orris, UIC.

Dr. Orris says toys are getting safer but he's still concerned about chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

"There's cause for concern, and there's cause for taking preventive action, precautionary actions to move towards safer substances in those consumer products," said Dr. Orris,

Despite the new standards, Stephanie Thomas says parents still have to be careful about what they buy.

"As a mom, what we want to do is protect our children, and for me, any little bit that I can do for him, is fine with me," said Thomas.

A spokesperson for Target says the company is always concerned about lead in toys but at the low levels we found, it's compliant with current regulations.

On Friday, PIRG is releasing its annual Trouble in Toyland report, a look at concerns with toys including chemicals, noise, and choking hazards found on store shelves.


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