- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2011

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) — Parents now scanning toy store shelves with Christmas lists in hand might want to check another list before choosing gifts for their youngsters this holiday season.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group’s 26th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report, released Tuesday, identifies items that pose a potential health risk to children because of toxic material content, choking hazards or excessive noise.

According to the report, some toys exceed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s legal limits for lead and potentially hazardous plastic additives. Even more toys exceed the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended lead limits, which are stricter.

Many toys labeled safe for children younger than 3 have parts that are smaller than the Child Safety Protection Act allows. Others are missing required choke-hazard warning labels, the report states.

Researchers also found that some products emit noise that could damage a child’s hearing, according to Carly Mercer, a Maryland PIRG employee.

Parents shopping at Toys R Us in Frederick this week said they try to ensure the products they bring home are safe, but they do not always do a lot of research about potential dangers.

Amanda Norman, who lives in Carroll County, said she reads about toy safety online, watches the news for information about recalls and checks toy packaging for age appropriateness. She also tests toys that make noise in the store and uses volume controls to keep them at a lower decibel range once they are in her home, she said.

While Mercer said parents should be aware of PIRG’s findings, checking out toys for themselves in the store can also help keep children safe.

Tom England, co-owner of Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in downtown Frederick, agrees.

“It’s a lot of common sense,” he said.

But toys can also contain dangers that are invisible to the naked eye, according to the PIRG report.

A book for babies titled “Little Hands Love,” for example, contains more than twice the legal limit of lead, the report states. A costume sleep mask has 77 times the amount of legally allowed phthalates, or plastic additives.

Norman said she tries to keep herself in the know, but she does not have a lot of information about toxic plastic additives.

“That is one concern,” she said.

“I’ve been a little concerned about lead,” said Dina Sharpe, of Woodsboro, another shopper.

Sharpe said she had not done much research on lead levels in toys, but she tries to find products made in the U.S. because she believes they are safer than imported items.

Suzie Kerr of Boonsboro has similar feelings about American-made toys.

“I really try these days to get things made in the U.S.A.,” she said.

Kerr also monitors recall lists, she said, and she avoids noisy toys altogether.

Butch Redding of Frederick said he is not as worried about choking and lead hazards now that his children are older.

Because his 13-year-old son enjoys online gaming and surfing the Web, he said, he is more worried about Internet predators.

Megan Wilhelm of Urbana has four sons 8 and younger, she said. She does not buy toys with small parts, but said she has not researched other hazards.

“The lead and the toxic plastics, I should be more concerned about that,” she said.

England said he fields questions from parents every day about whether his store’s products are safe.

He recommends that parents keep themselves informed about toy safety issues and inspect products closely before making a purchase.

He also suggests parents look for a “CE” symbol on the toys and games they purchase. That denotes that the product meets European safety standards, he said, which are more strict than U.S. standards.

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com