Hazardous toys still on U.S. store shelves: groups

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two consumer groups called on Tuesday for tougher toy oversight by the U.S. government’s product safety agency, saying they had easily found toys in stores with high lead levels and other dangers.

Starletz tea sets, Disney Princess pencil pouches and Dora and SpongeBob bats and balls tested positive for lead despite recalls of millions of Chinese-made toys this year for lead paint and other hazards, the Center for Environmental Health told reporters by telephone.

The Starletz porcelain tea sets had the highest lead levels, 20 times what would be allowed in paint, the group said. A Dora Game Pack also tested positive for lead.

Separately, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) said it too had found toys violating U.S. standards and urged lawmakers to pass legislation to strengthen the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and virtually ban lead in toys.

“This year we’ve all been shocked by the millions of recalls by famous name manufacturers,” PIRG consumer program director Ed Mierzwinski told a news conference. “The CPSC is a little agency with a big job that it simply cannot do with limited resources.”

Lead can cause developmental delays and behavioral disorders in children. It can also be toxic.

Michael Green, director of the Center for Environmental Health, said his group’s two part-time researchers had found the lead-tainted toys, adding: “This is an appropriate role for government.”

Green said several of the toys were bought at retailer Target Corp.

Susan Kahn, Target’s vice president for communications, said Target was testing toys and continued to emphasize safety but was not immediately aware of the group’s discovery.

The Center for Environmental Health said it had faxed letters to Target about 45 minutes before its conference call with reporters.

PIRG’s Mierzwinski said his group recently toured stores in the Washington D.C. area and found toys that violated U.S. safety standards or were improperly labeled about their hazards, including small parts that children could choke on.

The CPSC released its own toy safety guide on Tuesday, warning parents of small parts, magnets and projectiles.

The agency also said it has increased its toy inspections, and that the Chinese government has signed new agreements to conduct inspections to prevent unsafe toys from being exported to the United States.

“Toys today are undergoing more inspection and more intense scrutiny than ever before,” said acting CPSC Chairman Nancy Nord in a statement.

The California attorney general and Los Angeles city attorney filed a lawsuit on Monday against 20 companies, including Mattel Inc, Toys “R” Us Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, accusing them of manufacturing or selling toys with unlawfully high levels of lead.

Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, recalled about 21 million toys earlier this year because of lead paint and hazards posed by small magnets.

Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tim Dobbyn