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NSF advises parents to "read warning labels" when buying toys

02.23.10 NSF advises parents to "read warning labels" when buying toys

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While at Toy Fair last week, I had the chance to visit with the team from NSF International and talk a bit about a topic that can be very frustrating, toy safety. Following is a quick interview with Dave Parzen, Business Unit Manager for the Consumer Products Safety at NSF. Some good news on the horizon...

Dina: I understand the NSF started testing toys and children’s products just last year. What were the reasons behind expanding into these areas?
Dave: NSF International’s mission is to protect public health and safety.  When more than 20 million toys were recalled in 2007, mostly for having excessive levels of lead in paint, NSF wanted to be proactive and part of the solution to assure kids would be safe when playing with toys.  When congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in 2008, NSF International became one of the first labs to be approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to test toys.  According to the law, all toys sold in the US are required to be tested by an accredited lab like NSF.

Dina: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Dave: The biggest challenge has been adapting to the constantly changing law.  The new CPSIA law can be confusing.  Since it is a new law, there are still new pieces that are being added and changed on a daily basis.  Part of our responsibility is to help toy manufacturers comply with all the necessary parts of the law.  In order to do this, we need to stay up to date with what is going on.

Dina: There is a lot of misinformation out there and most parents are confused. Any tips?  
Dave: The best thing parents can do before buying a toy is assure the age grading on the toy is appropriate for the child, read the warning labels for potential hazards, and buy from trusted stores.  For more tips and advice, you can also check out NSF International’s toy safety blog at playsafer.wordpress.com.

Dina: I’ve spent hours researching toys. Do you (or will you) have an easily searchable database where parents can look up toys to see if they’re safe? If not, is there a database that exists?
Dave: Part of the CPSIA law requires the Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish a public database that will contain information about products that are dangerous.  The database is expected to go live sometime in 2011. (YAY!! - that was from me - not dave - although i'm sure he shares my excitement)

Dina: What is the biggest danger to look out for?
Dave: The most common dangers that we see when we test toys are small choking hazards, sharp points, sharp edges, excessive levels of lead, and phthalates.

Dina: Any more advice for parents?
Dave: The industry is evolving as a result of the new legislation, toy safety is moving in the right direction to assure parents and consumers that they toys they buy are safe for their children.  Buy smart from second-hand stores.  Inspect the toys to verify that they are in good condition and contain all original instructions for proper use. Our recommendation is to be very careful when purchasing used toys and make sure to buy things that are appropriate for your child’s age and ability level.  Most toys will contain an age grade label, such as 12 months +, or 3+.  Use this as a guideline to find developmentally appropriate toys for the given age. Products with small parts, small balls or marbles can be particularly dangerous to children under 3 years old.

Thanks for your time Dave! Keep up the good work!

For more updates on toy safety, check out the NSF blog at playsafer.wordpress.com where they regularly post information for manufacturers and parents.

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