Becky Fenger Fenger PointingDECEMBER 22, 2010

"Killer" toys?

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Wait! Before you let the kiddies open their presents, you'd better take heed of the holiday warning entitled "Trouble in Toyland" from the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). Each year at this time, the Grinch that is PIRG scares the bejeebers out of otherwise sane adults with their dire warnings about the "toxic" chemicals hidden in toys.

Right on schedule, PIRG is hot on the trail of phthalates, their latest demon chemical. Phthalates are ubiquitous in the world and widely used to make plastics bendable without breaking. In its best "Alar in Apples" fashion, the CBS program "60 Minutes" recently ran a segment on the supposed dangers of these phthalates. (Not a peep about their lifesaving qualities, such as in hospital I.V. bags.)

There's one problem with this type of reporting: It's dishonest. As pointed out by the American Council on Science and Health, special interest groups continue to target this substance despite "decades of use, a longstanding safety record, study after study reassuring its safety, and the government's seal of approval." Ho, ho, ho. Why do you suppose that is? Do you suppose there is budget money to be raised from needlessly scaring the stuffing out of parents?

Vying for the devil chemical of the year is BPA (bisphenol A), a substance also much maligned although proven just as safe as phthalates, even for use with infant products. Apparently, New York Governor David Patterson was unaware of this when he signed into law a bill banning BPA in children's products this summer. Many others are clamoring to ban the product, even though the replacement products have not been tested like BPA has.
In a report entitled "On the Money" released this month by a group called The Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer Chemicals Healthy Families – another "Scare of the Month" gang, it was revealed that (gasp!) 21 out of 22 dollar bills they tested contained trace levels of BPA. Not content to stop at paper money, the group also tested cash register receipts and found that "50 percent of those receipts, gathered from retailers in 10 different states and Washington, D.C.," also contained BPA.

They should have stopped there. But, in a claim that renders any of their other findings suspect, the vigilantes reported that one cash register receipt it tested was 2.2 percent BPA by weight! Digest that statement for a minute – cloaked in the knowledge that sophisticated chemical-testing equipment is now able to test in parts per trillion.

Now, let's assess what should be our level of concern as a result of this report. Consider that paper money is coughed on, spit upon, and (dare I say it?) even worse, just how stoked should I get about a harmless product like BPA compared to the E. coli that gives new meaning to the term "dirty money"?

Not to be outdone by the hysteria-mongering non-governmental organizations, the U.S. Surgeon General just this month, as a friend of mine put it, jumped the shark! Yes, it's true. Regina Benjamin issued a report claiming that "a single puff of a cigarette or a single inhalation of secondhand smoke can permanently damage one's health and perhaps lead to death." The good doctor had not one single example of this happening to any poor innocent, but she blast-disseminated the unsubstantiated horror story anyway.

You know, you would think the Army would have taught us that if you are going to make films for horny servicemen with the vivid, albeit in black and white, images of the final stages of syphilis, you'd better be prepared for the American public to laugh at you.
Teenagers, after all, felt betrayed by their elders who produced overboard warnings about the use of marijuana. But the top doc jumped in where others have learned to wade.

Back to PIRG's warning about our toxic toys: The actual number of toy-related deaths in 2009 was 12, cut in half from the two dozen in both 2007 and 2008. Even then, those deaths were not related to "toxic" chemicals. If you don't want Tiny Tim to die from a rubber ducky, don't let him choke on it!

Here is a genuinely scary statistic for you: 1,538 kids died in car-related accidents in 2009 alone. And the weekly numbers always spike around the holidays, when alcohol consumption increases. Think of that when you plan just how much cheer to enjoy.