For some Iowa families, holiday traditions may include a trip to the hospital emergency room.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Public Interest Research Group (IPIRG) issued its 27th annual report on its laboratory testing of toys for lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which have been proven to have serious adverse health impacts on the development of young children. The survey found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury.
However, Dr. Vidya Chande, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, said the toy safety problems for parents often go beyond product labeling concerns when extended families get together and small children gain access to toys appropriate for older ages, youngsters injure themselves trying to open plastic packaging, or kids get scrapes and bruises playing with toys that cleared government safety standards.
Issues crop up during the Thanksgiving holiday, but more so on Christmas Day, she said.
“Christmas Day is usually one of our busiest days in the emergency department actually, because most of the clinics are closed and large families get together, and in that process you have all sorts of unexpected injuries. It’s usually a very high injury day for us, ironically,” Chande said.
“We see lots of cuts, lots of ingestions – for example, a Barbie doll shoe put in the nose, a magnet swallowed, a watch battery in the ear – it’s all these little things that aren’t necessarily regulated because they themselves aren’t the toy, but they’re a source of injury when we’re in a period of a family getting together and opening lots of things,” she added.
The ER doctor recommended that families set up separate rooms for smaller and older children and to segregate toys in age-appropriate ways that might minimize problems, although she conceded “that’s not going to work 100 percent” even in situations where parents are vigilant
“Toys that are safe in the hands of a 12-year-old can be very dangerous in the hands of a 2-year-old, so one of the challenges during the holidays is to keep the 12-year-old’s toys away from the 2-year-old,” Chande said. “We encourage family members to find safe spaces for little kids.”
Many of the toy-related injuries children sustain are avoidable, added Chande, who noted that an estimated 185,900 children ages 14 and under were treated in an emergency department for a toy-related injury nationwide in 2009 and about half of the affected kids were under the age of 5 years.
During a Tuesday news conference to discuss toy safety, IPIRG field associate Kramer McLuckie said his group’s Trouble in Toyland report (http://www.iowapirg.org/reports/iap/trouble-toyland) included a list of dangerous or toxic toys that still can be found on America’s store shelves.
The Trouble in Toyland report includes a list of dangerous toys that surveyors found on toy store shelves like powerful magnets that could be swallowed, a toy food set that is a choking hazard, and a cell phone rattle that potentially could harm children’s ears, he said.
“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said McLuckie, who directed consumers to an interactive website (www.toysafety.mobi) with tips for safe toy shopping that can be accessed on their smartphones.
“Many toy-related injuries occur when parents over estimate their child’s ability to handle a toy designed for an older age group,” said Anne Garinger, coordinator with Safe Kids of Greater Des Moines. “Parents need to be especially aware of safety labeling on a toy’s packaging.”
Garinger advised parents to be vigilant when buying used toys at garage sales, second-hard stores or via online sites like Craig’s List that may no longer have safety materials or warnings accompanying them. She said the Consumer Protection Safety Commission’s web site (www.cspc.gov) is a resource that can help parents make informed toy-safety decisions.