Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Danger in toyland

Every year, children are harmed by holiday gifts meant to entertain them. How do hazardous toys end up on store shelves?

A NEON-GREEN electric scooter billed as a "must-have thrill machine." A cuddly baby doll that coughed and glowed pink to simulate a fever. A fishing game that came complete with a rod and a magnetic worm.

You might remember seeing these items in the toy aisle. Maybe one even made your kid sister's holiday wish list last year. But none of them were safe.

That cool scooter? It could speed up without warning, leading riders to lose control. The adorable baby doll had defective wiring that caused it to overheat, burning and blistering kids' fingers. The fishing game broke apart easily, spilling tiny parts that some children ended up swallowing.

It may seem surprising that toys can harm you. But every year, thousands of children are hurt while playing with toys. In 2013, more than 257,000 kids were rushed to an emergency room after suffering a toy-related injury. At least nine of them died, the majority from choking on small parts.

Some toy-related accidents are caused by carelessness, such as riding a scooter without a helmet. But many injuries occur because the toys themselves are dangerous. When a product that's already on sale is found to be potentially unsafe, the government or manufacturer asks people to return it in what's known as a recall. Last year, 30 toys--about 2.8 million individual units--were recalled because they posed a threat to kids.

Not surprisingly, toy-related accidents tend to spike around the holidays. "I've been in the emergency room the day after Christmas and seen kids come in with all of their new-toy injuries," says Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "You can't assume that because a toy is on the store shelf, it's safe."

Buyer Beware

First, the good news: The United States has some of the toughest toy standards in the world. Over the past decade, the government has moved to make toys safer, spurred by a series of recalls in 2007. That year, more than 30 million individual toys were recalled because of hazards such as lead paint (which can cause brain damage in children) or small magnets that could be swallowed. Mattel, one of the world's largest toy companies, led the industry with 13 recalls, representing more than 10 million individual toys.

In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which created important new safety guidelines. Now, toys for kids under 12 must undergo independent third-party testing at labs around the country. Testers measure small parts, check for harmful substances, and even analyze decibel levels to ensure that a toy's sounds aren't loud enough to damage kids' hearing.

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As a result, toy recalls have fallen dramatically since 2008. "We've come a long way," says Nychelle Fleming, a spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the independent federal regulatory agency tasked with making sure that toys are safe. "However, one death is one too many."

So how do hazardous toys (see "Troubling Toys," right) still slip through? Part of the challenge is sheer volume. About 3 billion toys are sold in the U.S. annually, with thousands of new models introduced every year. That's simply too many toys to monitor, says Hari Bapuji, a business professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada, who has researched toy recalls.

"We all want to believe that if a product is being sold, it's been approved by somebody," Bapuji says. "But if you think of all the billions of products we're using, there is no regulator that could handle all that."

Playing by the Rules?

Another factor that makes ensuring safety complicated is that most toys sold in the U.S. are made overseas. (See "Where Do Toys Come From?," p. 19.) About 80 percent are produced in China, where manufacturing costs are much lower.

Other countries have different standards for the toys they sell, and many of those standards aren't as tough as the ones in the U.S. For example, although the U.S. banned lead in products marketed to children in 1978, it's still being used in China. (Lead poisoning is a major health problem among kids there.)

Foreign manufacturers that export toys to the U.S. are sup posed to follow our requirements, but this doesn't always happen. It's the job of the CPSC and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to stop toys that violate standards from coming into the country. (Agents can even test the lead level of imported toys right at the border.) In the past six years, more than 11 million units have been barred from entering the U.S. because they were deemed unsafe.

Danger in Design

Often, though, when a toy is recalled, the flaw lies not in sloppy construction or shoddy materials, but in its original design, says Bapuji, who analyzed 20 years of toy recall data for his book, Not Just China: The Rise of Recalls in the Age of Global Business.

"Most of the time, the problem wasn't in the manufacturing," he says. Rather, the toy designers had failed to anticipate that, say, a child could yank a string loose and wrap it around his or her neck, creating a strangulation risk.

Even though toy testers purposely kick, drop, and throw toys around to see what will happen to them, it's impossible to predict all the ways kids can manipulate toys. Says Bapuji: "Children do hundreds of things with toys that we don't expect them to."

Room for Improvement

For many years, toys were discovered to be dangerous only after a child had been injured by them. However, thanks to the 2008 legislation, that's finally starting to change. Today, the emphasis is on catching problems before toys ever hit a retailer's shelves.

"We're doing better, but there is still much to be done," says Smith, who is also the president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group. "We have to become more proactive. In many ways, we're numb to these injuries occurring on a daily basis."

The recall process itself also needs to be improved, some experts say. Right now, only about 15 percent to 30 percent of consumers participate in any given product recall. Instead, people may choose to dispose of the item, or they may never hear about a recall at all. Under law, companies must report toy defects to the CPSC--which publishes recall notices on its website--but they aren't required to publicize recalls.

The scary part? If people aren't aware of a recall, they might resell a potentially hazardous toy online or at a yard sale, or donate it to a thrift shop.

That's why it's important for people to pay attention to news about recalled toys. Says Fleming: "You would not want to pass on a deadly danger to another unsuspecting person."

TROUBLING TOYS

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MY SWEET LOVE CUDDLE CARE BABY DOLL

In March 201A, about 170,000 of the dolls were recalled because they were capable of overheating. At least two kids suffered burns.

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LAWN DARTS

The game was banned in 1988 after thousands of reported injuries. At least three children died when the darts punctured their skulls.

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WATER YO-YOS

The CPSC issued a warning about the toys in 2003, after nearly 200 people reported that the cords had wrapped around their kids' necks. Some states and retailers have since banned their sale.

WHERE DO TOYS COME FROM?

HINT: It's not the North Pole. This map shows the top 10 exporters of toys to the U.S. in 20U (and the dollar value of those goods).

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QUESTIONS

1. What was the dollar value of toys exported from Vietnam to the U.S. in 2014?

2. Which country was the biggest exporter?

3. How much more did this country export than Mexico, the country in second place?

4. The equator passes through which exporter?

5. Which exporter is located in Europe?

6. Which exporter is farthest south?

7. Which continent has the most exporters?

8. What is the capital of the country that exported $192 million of toys to the U.S.?

9. Which country exported $87 million of toys to the U.S.?

10. Which exporters are in North America?

YOUR TURN

What are some of the reasons dangerous toys end up in stores? How might manufacturers make toys safer?

Download our skills sheets at scholastic.com/js.

Words to Know

export [v]: to ship goods to other countries for sale

Danger in Toyland

Lexile Score: 1140L

OBJECTIVE

Students will analyze the sources included in an informational article.

KEY STANDARDS

RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.9, RH.6-8.10

TIME FRAME

Approximately one class period

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Every year, dangerous toys end up on store shelves in the United States. Despite the tougher guidelines of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, more than 257,000 kids went to an emergency room with a toy-related injury in 2013. Keeping kids safe is complicated because of the volume of toys sold, the fact that most toys are made overseas, and the difficulty of predicting how toys will be used.

STEP-BY-STEP LESSON PLAN

Before Reading

1 PREDICTIONS

(5 MINUTES)

Display the following terms for students to see: recall, injury, hazardous, Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, hospital. Have students use the terms to write two or three sentences predicting what the article is about. Ask a few students to share their predictions with the class.

2 FREEWRITING

(10 MINUTES)

Ask students to respond to the following prompt: "Have you ever been hurt playing with a toy? If so, describe what led to the injury." Have students share their experiences with a partner.

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Read & Analyze

3 INDEPENDENT READING

(15 MINUTES)

Have students read the article on their own. They should annotate the text by underlining direct quotes and writing comments or questions in the margins.

FULL-CLASS DISCUSSION

(15 MINUTES)

Use the questions below to guide a discussion.

* How did most children die from toy-related injuries in 2013? (They choked on small parts.)

* What happens when a toy already for sale is found to be potentially unsafe? (The government or manufacturer asks people to return it in what's known as a recall.)

* Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, states, "You can't assume that because a toy is on the store shelf, it's safe." How does that make you feel as a consumer? Explain. (Answers will vary.)

* What has the United States done to make toys safer since 2007? (In 2008, lawmakers passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.)

* Explain the guidelines set by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. (Toys for kids under 12 must undergo independent third-party testing. Testers measure small parts, check for harmful substances, and analyze decibel levels to ensure that a toy's sounds aren't loud enough to damage hearing.)

* Nychelle Fleming, a spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, says, "We've come a long way. However, one death is one too many." What do you think this shows about the CPSC's views about child safety? (It takes this seriously. It has made progress but won't be satisfied until there are no serious injuries.)

* Hari Bapuji, a business professor at the University of Manitoba in Canada, states, "We all want to believe that if a product is being sold, it's been approved by somebody. But if you think of all of the billions of products we're using, there is no regulator that could handle all that." Explain whether you agree with this statement. What is your response as a consumer? (Answers will vary.)

* Why are most toys sold in the U.S. made overseas, and what problems can that cause? (They are made abroad because manufacturing costs are lower there. That can cause problems because other countries don't always follow U.S. safety standards.)

* Aside from manufacturing and design problems, why can't we guarantee the safety of toys? (Toy testers can't anticipate everything a child will do with a toy.)

* Describe the recall process. What is problematic about it? (Recall notices are published by the CPSC, but toy companies are not required to publicize them. Only 15 to 30 percent of consumers participate in any product recall.)

* According to Smith, "We have to become more proactive." Do you believe everything possible is being done to make toys safe? (Answers will vary.)

Extend & Assess

5 ANALYZING SOURCES

Have students complete the skills sheet Analyzing a Source's Credibility: Checking a Source's Strength (p. T-13). Review it as a class.

6 WHERE DO TOYS COME FROM?

Have students work in pairs to complete the "Where Do Toys Come From?" map activity on p. 19. Go over the answers together.

7 YOUR TURN

Ask students to write a half-page essay in response to the Your Turn questions on p. 19. Allow a few volunteers to share their essays with the class.

8 RECALL AWARENESS

Give students time to explore the CPSC website, cpsc.gov, and analyze the toy recall list. Discuss whether or not there are ways to more effectively make consumers aware of recalls.

DIFFERENTIATING

Lower Level Go over the definition of each word in the before-reading activity before asking students to write their predictions.

Higher Level Have students use the words from the before-reading activity to write a two-sentence objective summary of the article.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Skills Sheets

* Analyzing a Source's Credibility: Checkinq a Source's Strength (p. T-13)

* Quiz Wizard (p. T-16)

* Test Prep: Know the News--Danger in Toyland (online)

* Crossword (online)

Game

* On the Road With Mapman[TM] (online)

NAME: --

ANALYZING A SOURCE'S CREDIBILITY

Checking a Source's Strength.

In "Danger in Toyland" [pp. 16-19], the author includes direct quotes from a variety of sources. Complete the table by listing three sources from the article and analyzing why each one appears to be a trustworthy expert on toy safety. Then answer the questions at the bottom.

Source   Job title/organization   What tells you that this is
                                  A reliable source?
Questions

1. The article is a secondary source that features a variety of sources within it. A primary source, on the other hand, provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, an object, or a person. What are some examples of people, documents, etc., that could be considered primary sources on toy safety?

--------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------

2. Explain how looking at both secondary and primary sources on a topic can help with understanding the content.

--------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------------------------

Answers

STUDENT EDITION

WHERE DO TOYS COME FROM? P. 19

1. $192 million

2. China

3. $15.2 billion

4. Indonesia

5. Germany

6. Indonesia

7. Asia

8. Hanoi

9. Thailand

10. Canada and Mexico

TEARCHER'S GUIDE

CHECKING A SOURCE'S STRENGTH, P.T-13

Possible answers include:

Source 1: Gary Smith; Job title/organization: director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance; Reliable source?: His roles as a protector of children's safety give him credibility on the subject.

Source 2: Nychelle Fleming; Job title/ organization: Spokesperson for the Consumer Product Safety Commission; Reliable source?: Fleming is an expert on the rules and guidelines that are required because she works for the commission that monitors toy safety.

Source 3: Hari Bapuji; Job title/organization: Business professor at the University of Manitoba, author of Not Just China: The Rise of Recalls in the Age of Global Business-, Reliable source?: Bapuji analyzed 20 years of recalls to write his book on this topic.

1. Answers may include: a child who was hurt by a toy, a copy of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, a recalled toy, a hospital injury report

2. Secondary sources provide readers with analytical or expert views on a topic or an event, which can help readers understand the information. Looking at a primary source can offer a direct experience to readers so they can make connections to the topic.

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