During its 23rd annual toy safety survey, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a consumer watchdog group, warned that toy buyers should beware of toxic chemicals that can cause personal injury can still be found in children’s products, despite new laws against them.

With the holiday shopping season beginning, PIRG is warning consumers that they should keep away from soft plastic toys and heavy children’s jewelry.

PIRG health advocate Liz Hitchcock recommends consumers staying away from soft plastic products, as they can contain phthalates, which are chemicals that some medical researchers have linked to a variety of health problems.

Another PIRG official, Ed Mierzwinski, also warns that consumers should avoid products that have a likelihood of containing lead. Specifically he said that he “just wouldn’t buy heavy metal jewelry” for children. He also recommends avoiding plastic jewelry, as it could cause choking hazards.

Last year, toy-related injuries caused 80,000 children under age five to end up in hospital emergency rooms, with 18 children in the U.S. reported to have died.

On August 14, stricter product safety rules were signed into U.S. law by President George W. Bush. The measures were taken after months of recalls in 2007 of dangerous toys that had been made in China, causing the year to earn the nickname “year of the recall,” according to safety advocates.

Companies like Mattel Inc and RC2 Corp were forced to remove millions of toys that had been manufactured in China from store shelves. The primary reason was excessive lead content in paint.

Since that point, public advocacy groups and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have clashed over how portions of the law should be interpreted.

Recently, toy companies were told by the CPSC that they would be allowed to continue the sale of phthalate-laden toys until they run out, according to Hitchcock, who noted that it was done despite “a clear prohibition against selling them after February 10.”

According to CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese, the law was being enforced as it is written.

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