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Fewer dangerous toys on shelves – but safety still an issue

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has had 38 recalls for dangerous toys this year, down from 162 in 2008. But parents shopping for children this holiday season still need to be vigilant.

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In general, parents shopping for children this holiday season can be confident that toys on the shelves are safer than they have been in the past.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has had 38 toy recalls this year, down from 162 in 2008 and 148 in 2007, when 45 million toys were recalled and the public demanded stronger laws and better enforcement.

But not all toys on shelves are safe, and parents still need to be vigilant.

"We are seeing progress, but there's no magic wand you can wave to improve the CPSC overnight," says Elizabeth Hitchcock, a public-health advocate with US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), which released its 24th "Trouble in Toyland" report on Tuesday. It's the group's first such report since Congress strengthened regulations on toy safety.

The report, which lists some unsafe toys being sold, focuses on three still-problematic areas: choking hazards, noise level, and lead and phthalate (chemical substances added to plastics) content.

It credits much of the progress being made to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed in August 2008, which strengthened the CPSC and toughened regulations against hazards like lead and phthalates. The current standard for acceptable lead content in paint on children's toys is 90 parts per million – much lower than the 600 parts per million that was allowed a year ago. (The overall limit for lead content in children's toys – previously unregulated – is 300 parts per million.)

"The new safety rules are on the side of the consumer and children," CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum told reporters Monday, citing the new lead and phthalate restrictions as well as new independent testing standards.

At the same time, she urged parents to pay attention to labeling and age suggestions for toys.

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