Shortly after issuing the 24th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, the authors got a call from the lawyers representing Fast Forward New York, a manufacturer.
The Elmo Lunch Bag, which contains an excess of the plastic-softening chemical diisodecyl phthalate, is not a toy, said the lawyers. Therefore, it is not subject to the phthalate regulations of children's toys.
"This is so obviously a product destined for small children," said Jon Bartholomew, policy advocate for Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), whose national office releases the annual toy safety report. The "Trouble in Toyland" report analyze a number of different products for choking hazards, labeling requirements, noise levels and other safety hazards for children.
Bartholomew said a number of non-toy products that exceed lead and phthalate limits for toys end up in the hands of children. He has to look no further than the "cell-phone charm" available at Claire's.
"The thing is 72 percent lead," he said.
Since September, all children's toys are subject to testing by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, but trinkets like the cell phone charm or the lunchbox don't currently qualify. They're not considered toys.
But compared to 20 years ago, responses to dangerous products – by both government and private industry – have greatly improved. Soon after the release of the report on Nov. 24, and after notifying the government, Bartholomew traveled to several stores to find a cloth book that exceeded safe lead levels.
"Within two weeks (of notifying the safety commission) Toys 'R' Us had pulled it from the shelves and I couldn't get it at Borders or Barnes and Noble," he said.
After searching for a rubber duck with unsafe lead levels, he found one at a local Dollar Tree, but when he attempted to purchase it, the computers set off an alarm, which blocked the sale.
OSPIRG encourages parents to become involved and make sure toys are safe for children. The national Public Interest Research Group federation now operates two websites to help parents be informed shoppers. One website – http://toysafety.mobi – allows mobile devices to check questionable products while at the store. The other – www.toysafety.net – offers a more comprehensive overview of the effort to improve toy safety, as well as link to the full "Trouble in Toyland" report.