'Toxic' Hello Kitty jewellery and tiny toy Disney figurines pose health risks: US report

The Hello Kitty balloon floats down Central Park West during the 88th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York last week. An American consumer group said on Monday that it found Hello Kitty jewellery to have high levels of phthalates, which ca
The Hello Kitty balloon floats down Central Park West during the 88th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York last week. An American consumer group said on Monday that it found Hello Kitty jewellery to have high levels of phthalates, which can damage reproductive systems. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Too small Disney figurines and toxic Hello Kitty jewellery are among toys that pose a risk to children this shopping season, according to a report Monday by an American consumer organisation.

The US Public Interest Research Group expressed alarm that "dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America's store shelves" in its annual Trouble in Toyland report Monday The organisation commended the country's policing of toy sales, but said more needs to be done.

"Progress has been made," said US PIRG public health advocate Sujatha Jahagirdar, pointing towards recently enacted consumer legislation.

But the recall of more than 11 million toys in 2013 shows that authorities still need to exercise vigilance, the group said.

Of several hundred toys tested, around 25 were found potentially dangerous. The consumer organisation divided the hazards into several categories: toxic with high levels of phthalates, lead or chromium; choking hazard; and items that can be too easily swallowed.

The report noted there was no warning label on a set of figurines for popular Disney TV show Doc McStuffins that could be broken into pieces and swallowed.

Toy sheriff stars were found to have excessive amounts of development-dampening lead. Hello Kitty jewellery and a plastic bath duck were found to have high levels of phthalates, which can damage reproductive systems.

A Dora the Explorer backpack was found to have 200 times the allowable levels of phthalates.

And Buckyballs, popular magnetic chain toys, could still be purchased online despite a ban on sales, US PIRG said. If swallowed, the ultra-powerful magnets could rip through intestinal tissue to draw together.

The report can be read on the www.uspirg.org site.

However, the Toy Industry Association challenged the report, emphasising that all toys have to undergo strict testing to be sold in the US.

"Of the three billion toys sold in the US every year, less than one tenth of one per cent are involved in a recall," the Toy Industry Association's government affairs director Rebecca Mond said.

According to the US agency for consumer protection, 238 children under the age of 15 died in accidents involving toys between 2001 and 2013, 40 per cent by asphyxiation.