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TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2007
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Tina Parker and her 3-year-old son, Kingston, examine toys made in Germany at Wyker's Toys on Bank Street Northeast. 'We're trying to just be careful now with what we buy,' said Parker of Decatur.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Tina Parker and her 3-year-old son, Kingston, examine toys made in Germany at Wyker's Toys on Bank Street Northeast. "We're trying to just be careful now with what we buy," said Parker of Decatur.

Toy story
If all your child wants for Christmas is an Easy-Bake Oven, recent recalls may make you become the anti-Santa. Local parents are concerned and continue to play it safe when buying toys.

By Danielle Komis Palmer
dpalmer@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

When the makers of Thomas & Friends toys recently recalled toys and set parts from its Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint, Janie Rogers of Decatur received dozens of phone calls from concerned friends and family.

"Everybody knew that Jacob was so into Thomas so everyone was calling me," she said.

After discovering that her 6-year-old son owned all the recalled items in the line, she loaded the toys and put them in a safe place. She plans to send the toys back to the manufacturer soon.

Rogers, like many parents in the Tennessee Valley, has been affected by the recent slew of toy recalls from China that have been the top stories in news reports for weeks.

"It's not something we panicked over," she said. "We didn't run and take him to get tested (for lead poisoning)."

She probably would have been more concerned if her son was still in the phase where he chewed on everything, she said. But soon, her 6-month-old daughter will be in that phase, so her fears are not completely gone.

In recent weeks, Mattel recalled 21 million Chinese-made toys such as Barbie, Polly Pocket and "Cars" movie items because of concerns about lead paint and tiny magnets that could be swallowed. In June, toy maker RC2 Corp. voluntarily recalled 1.5 million railroad toys and set parts because of lead paint.

Even the Easy-Bake Oven, a toy that has been on many children's' Christmas lists since it debuted in 1963, came under scrutiny. Hasbro recalled recent models of the toy in July after reports of second- and-third degree burns to children.

Danielle Tyrka, a Decatur mother of a 2-year-old daughter and a 17-month-old son, also was affected by the numerous toy recalls.

She was forced to take away her daughter's Dora the Explorer Dollhouse when the recalls were announced. She's awaiting more information from the manufacturer to find out what to do with the toy. But in the meantime, she's not taking any chances.

"We definitely took it away," she said. "We didn't want her playing with it."

"It's devastating," said Tonda Turner of the numerous recalls.

The Decatur woman recently shopped in Wal-Mart's toy department for her nephew.

"Something needs to be done. ... It touches everybody. It's hard to come to Wal-Mart and see 'Made in China' " on everything.

China worries

Anti-China attitudes like Turner's concern toyshop owners like Susan Wyker Jones of Wyker's Toys on Bank Street Northeast.

Since the toy recalls, Jones has received numerous calls from worried parents and grandparents. Some of them wary of all toys made in China, some have called to find out if her specialty toyshop carries toys that aren't made in China.

"If that's the mentality, the toy industry is going to just be devastated," Jones said. "Kids aren't going to have toys."

Jones cautions consumers from jumping to the conclusion that all toys made in China are dangerous. While millions of toys were recalled, millions more are safely on the market, she noted. In fact, China exported $7.5 billion worth of toys last year, accounting for nearly 87 percent of the toys imported by the U.S., according to China's Commerce Ministry.

Though Wyker's is a specialty toy shop, most of the items are made in China. Jones says she hopes parents are reassured by the "wake-up" call that the recalls have been for manufacturers, and added that she has received several letters from her importers emphasizing the safety of their products.

Sales at the toyshop have not been affected by the recalls, she said. The only recalled items her store carried were the Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway line, which she immediately pulled from the shelves and sent back.

Paying the price

While toymakers are currently absorbing the cost of extra testing and other recent safety measures, market experts report that by next year, American consumers may pay up to 10 percent more for toys because of increased vigilance by the industry.

Prices for this holiday season, however, will likely be unaffected since most toys were already ordered by sellers and manufacturers.

Most of the rising costs come from emergency third-party testing in the U.S. both by makers and sellers as they attempt to identify unsafe products.

Federal regulators and toy companies have proposed several solutions to the toy problem, though what the humbled industry will ultimately do to ensure product safety is uncertain.

Some propose more money to federal regulators such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, whose staffing has dropped from almost 800 employees in 1974 to an all-time low of about 400 employees now.

Others propose holding Chinese subcontractors accountable who make the faulty toys, or enacting mandatory safety testing for all toys sold in the United States.

Some companies have decided to make changes on their own. For example, Toys 'R' Us will soon independently test every branded product, and The Walt Disney Co. said it, too, will independently test toys featuring its characters.

Until the issue is resolved, many parents aren't panicking about the recalls but are simply playing it safe.

"We're trying to just be careful now with what we buy," said Tina Parker of Decatur. "We haven't been faced with it a lot yet, but I'm sure at Christmas we'll be checking all the recall lists."

On the Net

To find out whether your child has a recalled toy in his toy chest, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site at www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html or visit the toy manufacturer's Web site.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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