By Rick Sobey

MediaNews

Ahead of Black Friday comes "Trouble Tuesday."

Before running out to the stores this weekend, it's important to watch out for toys that are hazardous to a child's health, according to a report released Tuesday.

Despite improvements from recent product reforms, there are still dangerous toys on store shelves that pose safety hazards to children as the holidays approach, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group announced three days before the holiday shopping spree ensues.

"Strong progress has been made in protecting our children since policymakers responded to a wave of toy recalls in 2008," MASSPIRG organizer Matthew Wellington said.

He added, however, that there are still many hazards that need to be addressed.

"We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe," Wellington said. "However, until that's the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys."

MASSPIRG released its 28th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report and list of dangerous toys during a press conference in Lowell on Tuesday. The report highlights toys that slipped through the cracks and contain high levels of lead, cadmium and phthalates, all of which can have serious adverse health effects on the development of children, according to MASSPIRG.

The advocacy organization's report also examines toys that pose choking hazards and lack the required labeling, toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed, and excessively loud toys that put a young child at risk for hearing damage.

"These toys that can harm or poison a child are everywhere, from the Dollar Store to Toys 'R' Us," said Wellington, who added that MASSPIRG's annual report has prompted more than 150 toy recalls in 28 years.

Wellington brought a few "trouble" toys to the press conference to highlight MASSPIRG's concerns.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pencil case, from Toys "R" Us, contains cadmium and phthalates that pose chronic health hazards to children, he said.

The case was tested by MASSPIRG at 150,000 parts per million phthalates and 600 ppm cadmium. The toy standard limits for phthalates are 1,000 ppm, and cadmium's limit is 75 ppm. This pencil case, however, is excluded from regulations because the toy industry argues that it's not a toy or a child-care item.

"Although this children's product is not a toy subject to toy-standard limits, these hazards should be eliminated from all children's products," Wellington said. "This can be easily chewed."

Other products that contain lead and other toxic chemicals, according to MASSPIRG's report, include: Captain America Soft Shield, from Toys "R" Us; Lamaze Take and Tidy Activity Mat, from Babies "R" Us; and Rings, from Dollar Store.

In addition, more than 80 children choked to death on balloons, balls, toys or parts of toys from 2001 to 2011, and Wellington that small toys need to be held to more stringent standards. The "small-parts choke-test cylinder," used to determine if a toy is banned for children under 3, is too small, according to MASSPIRG. A more reliable test for parents is an empty toilet-paper roll, the organization claims.

Wellington also highlighted Sonic Sound Sizzlers Noise Magnets, from Family Dollar. If the small, high-powered magnets are swallowed, children could suffer severe internal injuries, he said.

Finally, he brought a Leap Frog Chat & Count Smart Phone, from Babies "R" Us, to show that noisy toys can cause hearing damage. The toy tests at higher than 85 decibels and is intended to be held close to a child's ear. The toy-standard limit is 65 decibels, he said.

"We've come a long way from the days of Dan Aykroyd and the bag of glass," said Lowell Mayor Patrick Murphy, referring to a skit on "Saturday Night Live." "But we have a very far way to go."

While MASSPIRG stresses the need for caution and toy-safety reform, the Toy Industry Association responded Tuesday that consumers should be confident in toy safety.

"What the report doesn't tell you is that all the toys have to comply with U.S. standards, and they've been tested and certified for compliance before they are put on store shelves," said Joan Lawrence, TIA's vice president of safety standards and regulatory affairs. "Consumers need to know they've been tested, and consumers should feel confident."

MASSPIRG is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public-interest advocacy organization that "takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and well-being."

To read the "Trouble in Toyland" report, visit www.masspirg.org. MASSPIRG is also providing a toy-safety quiz to help educate parents and others about toy-related hazards at www.toysafetytips.org.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter and Tout @rsobeyLSun.