Trouble in Toyland

An ABC7 I-Team Exclusive

Jason Knowles Image
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Trouble in Toyland
The ABC7 I-Team has an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the lab testing your children's toys.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team has an exclusive report on the potentially dangerous levels of chemicals found in your children's toys just before the holiday shopping season.

On Chicago's Near West Side, melted down toys are tested for chemicals at the Stat Analysis Corporation. The I-Team got an exclusive look at how toys are tested for an annual report called "Trouble in Toyland," which comes out Tuesday. The study is sponsored by a nonprofit watchdog organization called the Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG. Each year, the group tests 300 toys for all kinds of hazards.

"We look at and try to find common toys that are readily available on the market and test them for a variety of harms, whether there are toxic chemicals that could harm children, choking hazards, loud noises," said Abe Scarr, Illinois Public Interest Research Group.

Out of those 300 toys, PIRG says it uncovered 18 toys with choking, noise and magnetic hazards. As for chemical threats, four toys, they say, were found to be "toxic" after extensive lab testing; one had 10 times the legal limit of phthalates, that chemical makes plastics more flexible.

"Particular children can have severe negative consequence in their development. And because it is a softer plastic, we know that toys that use phthalates often will end up in children's mouths. They'll chew on them and that directly releases the chemical and puts them at harm," Scarr said.

"And these will be in saliva, and potentially be digested into your children's blood system," said Thomas Bauer, STAT Analysis Corporation.

Metal toys were also analyzed.

"We're trying to detect the amount of lead or chromium and other elements in the metals that could be in this toy, so we just scrape off the paint off," said Mihaela Danci-Tinca, a chemist at STAT Analysis Corporation.

After placing the metal scrapings in a microwave-like tool, they found one toy had 23 times the legal level of chromium.

"Chromium, which is a natural occurring element that will have really severe negative impacts on people if exposed to skin or ingested or inhaled, including lung cancer and stomach cancer," Scarr said. "This is used commonly in metals and paint in pigments used to paint toys."

But the Toy Industry Association says none of the toys named in last year's PIRG report got recalled. PIRG says their tests over the past 30 years have led to over 150 recalls.

The president of the Toy Industry Association also questions the lab's testing methods. ABC7's Jason Knowles asks, "You accuse PIRG of being inaccurate and misleading?"

"They should work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission if they have a concern about a toy - let's get the best lab, let's involve CPSC, let's do the test. Let's not go off do our own test, hold that test, wait for Thanksgiving and release it in a press conference, that doesn't do any good, and meanwhile, if you had a suspicion about that toy it's been on the market," said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO, Toy Industry Association.

PIRG says all of the toys tested for toxic chemicals were analyzed at STAT Analysis, which is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other government agencies.

"We are very upfront about the fact that this is a survey of some of the toys we found in the market. It's not intended to be an exhaustive review, it's intended to say look, we just went shopping, we bought 300 toys and we are able to find all these hazards and so we think people should be aware of these hazards and our policy makers should continue to fine tune laws so that we can better protect consumers," Scarr said.

The toy industry also questions why PIRG includes some toys on its danger list that pass industry standard choking tests. But PIRG believes some small toys can pass those tests and still be a hazard.

The 2015 "Trouble in Toyland" comes out on Tuesday. The ABC7 I-Team will look at the toys listed as potentially dangerous on our newscasts then.