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    For Immediate Release

    U.S PIRG Education Fund released a report yesterday outlining that Target is selling two fidget spinners containing high levels of lead, with one model containing 33,000 parts per million (ppm), more than 300 times the legal limit for lead in children’s products. Target’s response was that the fidget spinners are not children’s products, so therefore the federal lead regulations for children’s products does not apply. Target has refused to recall the fidget spinners.

    Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. That product no longer appears in a Target.com search for fidget spinners, and in visiting the original link where the fidget spinner was previously available for sale, it says that the fidget spinner is unavailable for sale online, or in nearby stores, regardless of what zip code you type into the search box.

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. This fidget spinner still has a 14+ label, but it was on the shelf surrounded by fidget spinners that have labels for 6+ and other toys. It was located at the front of store, rather than in the toy department of the store.

    The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) originally told U.S. PIRG Education Fund by email that the fidget spinners found to contain high amounts of lead are not children’s products due to the 14+ label, even though the Target.com website for Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass contained a statement that it’s for ages 6 and up. (After this story received substantial press coverage, Target amended it to say ages 14 and up.)

    Yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, (@ElliotKayeCPSC) re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”

    “We agree with Commissioner Kaye’s statement that all fidget spinners are toys. It’s common sense,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Director Kara Cook-Schultz. “We’re relieved to see that Target has made the Fidget Wild Spinner Premium Brass fidget spinner unavailable online, but we’re concerned that it is still available in stores. Target should recall both the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and its Metal counterpart immediately. Kids may currently be playing with these fidget spinners that contain high amounts of lead.”

    View U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s press release yesterday concerning lead in fidget spinners found at Target here.

    # # #

    U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.

    CPSC Commissioner states that it is obvious that fidget spinners are toys
    U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    Since late yesterday afternoon, Target appears to have made the 33,000 ppm-lead containing Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass unavailable for sale on its website. U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff went to a Target store today and found the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass was still available for sale in-store, despite the website saying it was unavailable there. Also yesterday, one of the CPSC’s Commissioners, Elliot F. Kaye, re-stated his opposition to the CPSC’s guidance and the acting chairman's statement when he tweeted, “Seems obvious fidget spinners are toys and should comply with all applicable federal safety standards.”


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    For Immediate Release

    CONTACT: Dev Gowda, Toxics Advocate, 630-915-6025, dev@pirg.org

    Kara Cook-Schultz, Toxics Director, 405-613-0970, kcook@pirg.org

    Chicago, IL– Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children’s gifts.

    The report exposes fidget spinners full of lead, inadequately-labeled toys and balloons that pose a choking hazard, and data-collecting toys that may violate children’s privacy and other consumer protection laws. We also provide a list of toys that have been recalled over the past year. 

    “We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for children’s presents,” said Dev Gowda, Toxics Advocate with U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 

    For more than 30 years, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children, and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. Over the years, our reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other enforcement actions. Key findings from the report include: 

    ●      Data-Collecting Toys: As toymakers produce more and more products that are part of the “Internet of Things,” data collection and the sharing of consumer information become greater concerns. For example, we list a doll, “My Friend Cayla,” which we found at Wal-Mart and Kohl’s, which has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to consumers to “consider cybersecurity prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes."

    ●     Small Parts: Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of three, we found several toys that contain small parts, but do not have any warning label at all. These included a peg game, golf, and football travel games that we found at Dollar Tree.

    ●     Lead: We found two fidget spinners from Target which had dangerously high levels of lead, well over the federal legal limit of 100 parts per million (ppm) for lead in children’s products. We tested for  lead a lab which is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). For Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass which we purchased at Target and is distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C.: the center circle tested for 33,000 ppm of lead, which is more than 300 times the legal limit for lead in children’s products. For Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal which we also purchased at Target and is distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C.: the center circle tested for 1,300 ppm of lead. On November 10th, Target announced that it will be removing the two fidget spinner models from its store shelves. Target had initially balked at our request to do so, citing a CPSC rule stating that general use products directed at adults don’t need to follow the same lead guidelines as children’s products directed at children 12 and under. The two models of fidget spinners we found were labeled for ages 14 and up. Our staff found them in the toy aisles at four Targets around the country. At the time of testing, the Target.com website even included a statement that the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass is recommended for children ages 6 and up, which was misleading. Now, the CPSC, Target, and Bulls i Toy need to ensure that these two fidget spinners are recalled, so that people who have already purchased the products won’t suffer any health consequences from playing with them.

    ●      Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. We found five balloon sets on store shelves from Dollar Tree (H2O Blasters – Water Balloons and Disney Princess Punchball Balloons), Party City (Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs and Mega Value Pack 14 Latex Punch Balloons), and Dollar City Plus (Party Balloons - 10) that are either marketed to children under eight or have misleading warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages three and eight.

    “Even small amounts of lead in toys can be ingested when transferred from fingers to mouth or from fingers to food,” said national lead expert Helen Binns, MD, pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.  “Lead harms the developing brain and is easily ingested through normal hand to mouth behaviors. Beware of these 2 fidget spinners, as they have dangerous amounts of lead.” 

    “Our leaders and consumer watchdogs need to do more to protect our youngest consumers from the hazards of unsafe toys. No child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a dangerous toy,” said Gowda. “The CPSC, manufacturers, and retailers should classify all fidget spinners as children’s products and hold them to federal lead limits. It’s simple common sense. And to prevent children from being exposed to lead-laden toys in the future, the CPSC needs to revise its loose and arbitrary regulations for determining the age range of a product.” 

    Even though many hoverboards have been taken off store shelves over the past year, they continue to pose dangers to children. Earlier this year, two young girls and a firefighter tragically died from a house fire that was believed to be caused by a hoverboard that was charging and overheated. And just last month, another house fire was believed to be caused by a hoverboard. Numerous hoverboards continue to be recalled by the CPSC for faulty battery packs.

    In a victory for consumers, the CPSC in October issued a final rule prohibiting children’s toys and child care articles containing more than 1,000 ppm of five additional phthalate chemicals (DINP, DPENP, DHEXP, DCHP, and DIBP). U.S. PIRG Education Fund has been calling on the CPSC to ban these phthalates for several years and applauds the CPSC for its new rule. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and certain phthalates have been linked to altered development of the male reproductive system, early puberty, and cancer.

    Parents and caregivers can also take steps to protect children from potential hazards. We recommend that parents:

    ●      Subscribe to email recall updates from the CPSC and other U.S. government safety agencies available at www.recalls.gov;

    ●      Shop with U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Toy Safety Tips, available at toysafetytips.org;

    ●      Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at Saferproducts.gov;

    ●      Review the recalled toys in this report and compare them to toys in your children’s toy boxes;

    ●      Remember, toys on our list are presented as examples of potentially-dangerous toys. Our list is not exhaustive and other hazards may exist;

    ●      Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths;

    ●      Eliminate small magnet hazards from your home;

    ●      Be aware that that toys connected to the Internet, as well as apps and websites, may be collecting information about children inappropriately. Learn more about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA);

    ●      Make sure that the hoverboards you own contain a UL2272-certification sticker from the product-testing group Underwriters Laboratories. However, even UL2272 compliance cannot guarantee that a hoverboard will not overheat or catch fire.

    View our full Trouble in Toyland report at www.uspirgedfund.org. Parents can find our list of unsafe toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at toysafetytips.org

    # # #

    U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being. 

    Expert Tips Can Help Parents Shop Safely
    U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children’s gifts.

     

     


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  • 11/17/17--11:38: Trouble in Toyland 2017
  • Released by: U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    Executive Summary

    For over 30 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions over the years, and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and wellbeing of children.

    Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates, parents, the leadership of Congress, state legislatures, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 

    Among the toys surveyed this year, we found potential choking hazards, and two products with concentrations of lead exceeding federal standards for children’s products. We also found data-collecting toys that may violate children’s privacy laws. This report not only lists the potentially dangerous toys that we found this year, but also describes why and how the toys could harm children.

    The continued presence of hazards in toys highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that unsafe toys do not harm children. 

    Researchers also examined toys recalled by the CPSC between October 2016 and October 2017 and looked at whether they appeared to still be available for sale online. Researchers did not find any recalled toys for sale online.  However, parents should watch out for recalled toys that could still be in their homes. Over the past 12 months, the CPSC, in cooperation with manufacturers and distributors, has announced over 30 recalls of toys and children’s products totaling over 6.5 million units. 

    Standards for toy safety are enforced by the CPSC. Safety standards include limits on toxic substances in children’s products, size requirements for toys for small children, warning labels about choking hazards, measures to keep magnets and batteries inaccessible, and noise limits. 

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff examined toys to confirm that they are safe. We discovered that unsafe toys remain widely available. The problems we found include:

    • Lead. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to undermine IQ, attentiveness, and academic achievement. Our shoppers identified two fidget spinners that contained excessive levels of lead. Unfortunately, the CPSC chose not to classify these fidget spinners as toys so they will not be regulated under federal standards for lead in children’s products. We believe that these fidget spinners are marketed for children under 12 years and should therefore be classified as toys. 
    • Small parts are pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age three, can choke on small parts. Our shoppers identified several toys that contain small parts, but do not have any warning label at all. These included a peg game as well as golf and football travel games.
    • Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. We found five balloon sets on store shelves that are either marketed to children under eight or have misleading warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages three and eight.
    • Privacy-Invasive Toys: We alert parents and toy givers, for the first time, to so-called “connected toys” that may violate children’s privacy and other consumer protection laws. As more and more products are part of the “Internet of Things,” data collection and the sharing of consumer information become greater concerns. As an example, we list a doll, “My Friend Cayla,” which has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to consumers to “consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes.


    Despite recent progress in making toys safer, toys are still being recalled for hazards such as overheating and choking hazards. To keep children safe from potentially hazardous toys, there is still more to do.

    Policymakers should continue building upon recent progress in the strengthening of toy safety standards. 

    • Maintain the CPSC’s funding and authorities to protect the public; and,
    • Understand that regulations protect health and safety.

    The CPSC should improve recall effectiveness:

    • Engage in efforts to increase consumer and researcher awareness of the public hazard database SaferProducts.gov;
    • Aggressively seek to increase recall effectiveness by making sellers agree to conduct more effective outreach campaigns that stress the real hazard posed, rather than simply promote the purported good will of the firm;
    • Perform regular online sweeps checking for the availability of previously-recalled toys; and,
    • Hold companies reselling recalled products accountable, which also sends a message to others.

    The CPSC should continue to enforce and improve strong safety standards:

    • Continue to enforce vigorously the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s mandatory standards for toys, including strict limits on lead and lead paint in any toys, jewelry or other articles for children under 12 years;
    • Vigorously enforce the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s permanent ban on the use of three specific phthalates in all toys and children’s products; 
    • Enlarge the small parts test tube to be more protective of children under three;
    • Change the small-ball rule to include small round or semi-round objects, and not just “balls” in the strictest definition, since these toys pose the same hazards as small balls (this is especially true of rounded toy food, since it is “intended” to be eaten);
    • Enforce the use of the United States’ statutory choke hazard warning label, as many toys now are wrongly labeled with less explicit foreign warnings; and
    • Continue to enforce CPSC rules requiring online warning labels.
    • Classify all fidget spinners as toys and hold them to federal standards for children’s products.

    Parents and caregivers can also take steps to protect children from potential hazards. We recommend that parents:

    • Subscribe to email recall updates from the CPSC and other U.S. government safety agencies available at www.recalls.gov;
    • Shop with U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Toy Safety Tips, available at toysafetytips.org;
    • Examine toys carefully for hazards before purchase – and don’t trust that they are safe just because they are on a store shelf. Check the CPSC recall database at CPSC.gov before buying toys online;
    • Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at Saferproducts.gov;
    • Remember, toys on our list are presented as examples of previously recalled toys only. Other hazards may exist;
    • Review the recalled toys list in this report and compare it to toys in your children’s toy boxes; and
    • Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths.
    • Eliminate small magnet hazards from your home.
    • Be aware that toys connected to the Internet, as well as apps and websites, may be collecting information about children inappropriately. Learn more about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
    The 32nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety

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    Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources. These updated materials include:

    • Descriptions of different types of ID theft

    • Checklists for preventing, detecting, and resolving ID theft

    • A checklist for protecting one's online privacy

    • And links to additional resources

    You can read our resources on our website or download them.


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    Released by: WashPIRG Foundation

    With this Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, parents, teachers, and students can make more informed decisions while shopping for school supplies this Back to School season. We want to give parents and teachers the option to choose school supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals. This Shopping Guide should serve as a handy tool for finding products free of several types of toxic chemicals.

    We conducted laboratory tests for toxic chemicals in popular school supplies. Researchers tested markers (washable and dry-erase), crayons, glue (liquid and sticks), spiral notebooks, rulers, 3-ring binders, lunchboxes, and water bottles for toxic chemicals such as lead, asbestos, phthalates, BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and bisphenol-A (BPA). We purchased the supplies from across the country at a wide variety of stores including big box stores, dollar stores, drug stores, online retailers, and arts and crafts stores.

    Among the school supplies surveyed, we found Playskool crayons from Dollar Tree that contained asbestos, a 3-ring binder from Dollar Tree that contained high levels of phthalates, a dry-erase markers containing benzene, and we highlight two water bottles that have been recalled due to high levels of lead. 

    This guide not only lists the potentially dangerous school supplies that we found and why and how the school supplies can harm students, but also lists the school supplies that tested negative for chemicals of concern.

    The presence of toxic hazards in school supplies highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that school supplies containing toxic chemicals are removed from store shelves.

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff sent 27 school supplies to an independent laboratory to test for chemicals of concern. The problems we found include:

    * Crayons. We tested six types of crayons for asbestos and one tested positive for tremolite: Playskool crayons (36 count) that we purchased at Dollar Tree. We tested the green color crayon. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can lead to serious health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Pictures of the tremolite fibers taken from the laboratory are included in Appendix A.

    * 3-ring binders. We tested three 3-ring binders for phthalates, and one tested positive for phthalates: Jot-brand blue binder from Dollar Tree contained 240,000 parts per million (ppm) DEHP, and 8,000 ppm DINP. Research has documented the potential damage of exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development. Studies have linked phthalates to asthma, childhood obesity and lower IQ scores.

    * Water bottles. We tested two water bottles, both of which tested negative for the presence of lead. Two products reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been recalled for high levels of lead.

    * Markers. We tested two brands of washable markers for BTEX compounds that tested negative. We tested two types of dry-erase markers for benzene and phthalates, which tested negative for phthalates. One tested positive for benzene. Benzene is a probable carcinogen linked to dangerous disruptions in sexual reproduction, liver and kidney function and immune system functioning.

    Our three takeaways are:

    1) Some of these school products contain toxic chemicals that have been recalled. The government mandates that products for children should have less than 100 ppm of lead. If your family owns a water bottle described in this Guide that has been recalled for having above 100 ppm, immediately stop using the water bottle and return it to the store.

    2) Some of these school products contact toxics that, while not  banned by the federal government, could possibly pose a risk to children. It is legal to have asbestos in crayons. However, scientists and government agencies point out that it is unnecessary to expose children to asbestos. Manufacturers selling asbestos-containing crayons should voluntarily recall the crayons and reformulate the ingredients. Similarly, it is legal to have phthalates in some back to school products, but scientists recommend that children not be exposed to high levels of phthalates.

    3) Given that it is often legal to sell products containing these toxic substances, parents can do several things. First, look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) "AP" label, letting consumers know that the product is non-toxic. If there is no AP label, look for the manufacturer's "children's product certificate" on the product, which assures parents that the product has been tested in a third-party laboratory under government specifications. If neither of those labels is on the product, parents can reach out to the manufacturers and ask that they start using AP certification, or that they meet the requirements needed for a children's product certificate.

    We have the following recommendations:

    * Dollar Tree and Playskool should recall the asbestos-tainted crayons and remove them from store shelves. They should also contact customers to warn them about the crayons.

    * Dollar Tree and Jot should recall the 3-ring binder that contained high levels of phthalates and remove them from store shelves. They should also contact customers to warn them about the binders.

    * The Board Dudes and Amazon should recall their dry-erase markers that contain benzene and remove them from store shelves.

    * Policymakers should maintain the CPSC's funding and authorities to protect the public and mandate the CPSC to regularly test more children's products for toxic chemicals.

    * Parents and teachers should look for the AP label posted on items by the Art & Creative Materials Institute ("ACMI"). For items not certified by the ACMI, parents should look for a manufacturer's label certifying that the product meets CPSC guidelines for children. 

    * Parents should demand that manufacturers without a label start carrying a label, and that the products meet the safety guidelines.

    ###

    WashPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Foundation, is an independent, nonpartisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.

     


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    For Immediate Release

    Many parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies look for a “non-toxic” label on the products, but many products don’t have that label. WashPIRG Foundation is releasing a guide that advises consumers which products are actually non-toxic and which to avoid.

    "This fall, parents and teachers can use our safe shopping guide to help them purchase school supplies,” said Elise Orlick, WashPIRG Foundation Director. “We should feel safe knowing we’re sending our kids off to school with supplies that don’t contain toxic chemicals.”

    U.S. PIRG Education Fund tested dozens of school supplies including markers, crayons, dry erase markers, glue, 3-ring binders, spiral notebooks, lunchboxes and water bottles. We found several supplies containing asbestos, lead, benzene and other dangerous chemicals. The “School Supplies Safe Shopping Guide” warns consumers about those specific products, and offers suggestions for safer alternatives.

    Out of the dozens of products that we tested, most did not contain toxic chemicals. However, our tests and investigation found the following:

    • Asbestos in Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree. Asbestos, which can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, has recently been found in other children’s products, such as makeup.

    • Lead in recently-recalled children’s water bottles (Base Brands children’s Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, once sold by Costco, and GSI Outdoors children’s water bottle, once sold by L.L. Bean). The Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled both of these items because they contained high levels of lead. Lead can cause severe developmental and behavioral problems.

    • Phthalates in Jot brand blue 3-ring binder. The levels of phthalates in the binder is considered unsafe for children by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. High levels of phthalates can lead to birth defects, hyperactivity, and reproductive problems.

    • Benzene in Board Dudes brand markers. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia, and disruptions in sexual reproduction and liver, kidney and immune system function.

    “Based on our testing, we know that most manufacturers make safe school supplies. We’re calling on the makers of unsafe products to get rid of toxic chemicals and protect American schoolchildren,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Toxics Director.

    The full safe shopping guide, including names of stores selling the safer products, can be found here.

    Access our full consumer guide, including pictures of the products, here, or go to our website at uspirg.org/backtoschool.

    ##-##-##

    WashPIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Foundation, is an independent, nonpartisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.

     

    Lab results show many supplies safe, but some contain asbestos, lead and other hazardous chemicals
    WashPIRG Foundation

    Many parents and teachers shopping for their students’ 2018-19 school supplies look for a non-toxic “AP” certified label on the products, but many products don’t have that label, so it’s unclear if they’re safe or not. WashPIRG Foundation is releasing a guide that warns consumers about some products that may be on store shelves or already in their homes.


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    For Immediate Release

    PHILADELPHIA, PA -- King Bio Inc. issued the second significant voluntary recall since late July of their homeopathic drugs on Wednesday. This time, it recalled 32 children’s medicines due to possible microbial contamination that could cause life-threatening infections. The market for homeopathic drugs has ballooned over the past decade into a $3 billion industry that is exposing more and more people to health risks associated with the spread of untested products.

    On July 20, King Bio issued a nationwide recall after a routine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection found dangerous microbial contaminants in three products, including baby teething liquids. These recalls follow a January FDA letter to King Bio warning it that all claims about its products health benefits must be supported by scientific evidence. As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has strongly urged King Bio to review its health-related claims.

    Safety concerns over homeopathic drugs extend beyond King Bio as over the past several years, the FDA has issued recalls to several companies for a variety of health products from zinc-containing intranasal medicine to asthma drugs with toxic ingredients. 

    “This latest recall is another reminder that our lax regulation of homeopathic medicine has put our children and our families at risk. We need better mechanisms for ensuring that these products are adequately tested before they hit our store shelves, instead of after,” said Tano Toussaint, Consumer Watchdog Associate for U.S. PIRG.  

    Since 1988, the FDA has allowed homeopathy companies to distribute and manufacture products without going through the same approval, branding, and purity tests as other drugs. Scott Gottleib, the commissioner of the FDA, said “products labeled as homeopathic have not been reviewed by the #FDA for safety and effectiveness.” In December of 2017, the FDA strengthened its enforcement of homeopathics, saying it would take a “risk-based approach” to regulation and pull products deemed unsafe off the market, whether they have been approved or not. However, the FDA admits that some homeopathic products may slip through the cracks. Beyond that, the agency lacks a consistent enforcement mechanism for recalling unsafe products. 

    With its updated policy, the FDA has put King Bio and the homeopathic drug industry under heightened scrutiny. However, given how ubiquitous and dangerous these products can be, the FDA needs to step up and increase enforcement and standards for homeopathic medicines. 

    Homeopathic drugs regularly slip through FDA process

    King Bio Inc. issued the second significant voluntary recall since late July of their homeopathic drugs on Wednesday. Safety concerns over homeopathic drugs extend beyond King Bio as over the past several years, the FDA has issued recalls to several companies for a variety of health products from zinc-containing intranasal medicine to asthma drugs with toxic ingredients. 


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    For Immediate Release

    A year ago, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, WashPIRG Foundation is releasing a report containing suggestions on how Washington state officials and consumers can safeguard personal information.

    "One year after announcing the worst data breach in history weeks after it knew about it, Equifax has yet to pay a price or provide consumers with the information and tools they need to adequately protect themselves," said Elise Orlick, WashPIRG Foundation Director. “This may not have been the biggest breach ever, but it’s the worst, because Equifax’s carelessness made it easier for bad guys to steal the identities of nearly 150 million consumers.”

    The report, Equifax Breach: 1 Year Later – How to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft & Hold Equifax Accountable, includes the following features:

    • A recap of the main governmental and civil actions against Equifax over the last year (which have so far failed to hold the company accountable).

    • New materials, including charts and checklists, to help consumers understand how to best protect themselves against the very real threats of identity theft for the rest of their lives.

    • A case for why we need both oversight and financial consequences to prevent future large-scale breaches.

    The report also recommends requiring companies that have been hacked to clearly explain to consumers how they can protect themselves against most types of identity theft.

    The report contains charts, checklists and other tips to to help consumers prevent and detect the types of identity theft and fraud made possible by the Equifax breach:

    • Existing Account Fraud: Check your monthly credit card and bank statements.

    • New Account Fraud (including cell phone, credit card, loan, and utilities): Get credit freezes at all three nationwide credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The Washington state legislature eliminated fees for credit freezes in 2018.  A new federal law eliminates credit freeze fees for consumers nationwide starting on September 21st, 2018, though as we have previously explained, this law will actually weaken the protections of those credit freezes for consumers in Washington and other states.

    • Tax Refund Fraud: File your taxes as soon as possible, before thieves do. Also, if you qualify, get an Identity Protection (IP) PIN.

    • Health Care Services / Medical Benefits Fraud: Sign up for online accounts with your health care and insurance providers to periodically check for any fraudulent services on your statements.

    • Other Fraudulent Activity: Check your free annual consumer reports with companies that specialize in collecting information often misused by criminals.

    • Phishing Scams: Ignore unsolicited requests for personal information by email, links, phone calls, pop-up windows, or text messages.

    The report also highlights the need for both penalties against and new oversight of Equifax to compensate the victims and prevent future breaches of this scale.

    “Ultimately, we are not the customers of Equifax or the other credit bureaus. We are their product. We did not ask or give them permission to collect or sell our personal information,” said Orlick. “At the very least, breached companies should be required to provide consumers clear information about what can be done to protect themselves against most types of identity theft.”

    ###

    WashPIRG Foundation works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.

    WashPIRG Foundation

    A year ago, Equifax announced that hackers had breached its system and accessed the data of nearly 150 million U.S. consumers. To mark the anniversary of that notorious announcement, WashPIRG Foundation is releasing a report containing suggestions on how Washington state officials and consumers can safeguard personal information.


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    Released by: WashPIRG Foundation

    INTRODUCTION

    One year after publicly announcing the worst data breach in history, Equifax still hasn’t paid a price or provided the information and tools consumers need to adequately protect themselves.

    On September 7th, 2017, Equifax publicly announced a breach of its data belonging to approximately 143 million U.S. consumers. It later updated that number to 145.5 million and then to nearly 148 million affected consumers. By exposing sensitive personal information, including social security numbers and birthdates, and for some people, credit card numbers and driver’s license numbers, Equifax put consumers at risk of several types of identity theft and fraud.

     

    The purpose of this report is to make sure consumers have the information they need to protect themselves as much as possible, review what has happened in the last year, and point out the need for Congressional action to prevent breaches as bad as this one from ever happening again.

    EQUIFAX’S MANY FAILURES

    Had Equifax not been so careless, the breach may never have happened. Four months before the hacking, Equifax could have fixed a known security vulnerability. The company also botched its response by:

    • Delaying public notification for at least six weeks

    • Setting up an online search tool that provided faulty results to those who used it about whether they were affected by the breach

    • Initially understaffing its call center  

    • Initially including arbitration language that forced consumers to sign away their rights to a day in court

    • Directing consumers to a fake website

    • Failing to provide consumers full protection from new account identity theft -- which it still hasn’t done. (See Appendix A for a summary of Equifax’s offerings to consumers in response to the breach and how they fall short of protecting consumers.)

    An investigative report released by Senator Elizabeth Warren further explains the numerous ways Equifax failed consumers.

    *The full report includes major sections on Governmental Responses to the Equifax breach.

    *The full report also includes major sections on how to prevent identity theft and protect your privacy, including on the differences between free credit reports and security (credit) freezes required by law and other products offered by Equifax and other credit bureaus.

    CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

    Ultimately, we are not the customers of Equifax or the other credit bureaus; we are their product. We did not ask or give them permission to collect or sell our personal information. Congressional action, state and federal agency enforcement and private rights of action are needed to provide both the necessary financial consequences and oversight that will help prevent anything like last year’s Equifax breach from happening again. Additionally, breached companies should be required to provide consumers with clear, complete, and concise information about what can be done to prevent, detect, and resolve most kinds of identity theft and fraud.

    How to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft and Hold Equifax Accountable

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    Executive Summary

    With this Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, parents, teachers, and students can make more informed decisions while shopping for school supplies this Back to School season. We want to give parents and teachers the option to choose school supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals. This Shopping Guide should serve as a handy tool for finding products free of several types of toxic chemicals.

    We conducted laboratory tests for toxic chemicals in popular school supplies. Researchers tested markers (washable and dry-erase), crayons, glue (liquid and sticks), spiral notebooks, rulers, 3-ring binders, lunchboxes, and water bottles for toxic chemicals such as lead, asbestos, phthalates, BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene), and bisphenol-A (BPA). We purchased the supplies from across the country at a wide variety of stores including big box stores, dollar stores, drug stores, online retailers, and arts and crafts stores.

    Among the school supplies surveyed, we found Playskool crayons from Dollar Tree that contained asbestos, a 3-ring binder from Dollar Tree that contained high levels of phthalates, a dry-erase markers containing benzene, and we highlight two water bottles that have been recalled due to high levels of lead. 

    This guide not only lists the potentially dangerous school supplies that we found and why and how the school supplies can harm students, but also lists the school supplies that tested negative for chemicals of concern.

    The presence of toxic hazards in school supplies highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that school supplies containing toxic chemicals are removed from store shelves.

    MASSPIRG Education Fund staff and affiliates sent 27 school supplies to an independent laboratory to test for chemicals of concern. The problems we found include:

    * Crayons. We tested six types of crayons for asbestos and one tested positive for tremolite: Playskool crayons (36 count) that we purchased at Dollar Tree. We tested the green color crayon. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can lead to serious health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Pictures of the tremolite fibers taken from the laboratory are included in Appendix A.

    * 3-ring binders. We tested three 3-ring binders for phthalates, and one tested positive for phthalates: Jot-brand blue binder from Dollar Tree contained 240,000 parts per million (ppm) DEHP, and 8,000 ppm DINP. Research has documented the potential damage of exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development. Studies have linked phthalates to asthma, childhood obesity and lower IQ scores.

    * Water bottles. We tested two water bottles, both of which tested negative for the presence of lead. Two products reviewed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been recalled for high levels of lead.

    * Markers. We tested two brands of washable markers for BTEX compounds that tested negative. We tested two types of dry-erase markers for benzene and phthalates, which tested negative for phthalates. One tested positive for benzene. Benzene is a probable carcinogen linked to dangerous disruptions in sexual reproduction, liver and kidney function and immune system functioning.

    Our three takeaways are:

    1) Some of these school products contain toxic chemicals that have been recalled. The government mandates that products for children should have less than 100 ppm of lead. If your family owns a water bottle described in this Guide that has been recalled for having above 100 ppm, immediately stop using the water bottle and return it to the store.

    2) Some of these school products contact toxics that, while not  banned by the federal government, could possibly pose a risk to children. It is legal to have asbestos in crayons. However, scientists and government agencies point out that it is unnecessary to expose children to asbestos. Manufacturers selling asbestos-containing crayons should voluntarily recall the crayons and reformulate the ingredients. Similarly, it is legal to have phthalates in some back to school products, but scientists recommend that children not be exposed to high levels of phthalates.

    3) Given that it is often legal to sell products containing these toxic substances, parents can do several things. First, look for the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) "AP" label, letting consumers know that the product is non-toxic. If there is no AP label, look for the manufacturer's "children's product certificate" on the product, which assures parents that the product has been tested in a third-party laboratory under government specifications. If neither of those labels is on the product, parents can reach out to the manufacturers and ask that they start using AP certification, or that they meet the requirements needed for a children's product certificate.

    We have the following recommendations:

    * Dollar Tree and Playskool should recall the asbestos-tainted crayons and remove them from store shelves. They should also contact customers to warn them about the crayons.

    * Dollar Tree and Jot should recall the 3-ring binder that contained high levels of phthalates and remove them from store shelves. They should also contact customers to warn them about the binders.

    * The Board Dudes and Amazon should recall their dry-erase markers that contain benzene and remove them from store shelves.

    * Policymakers should maintain the CPSC's funding and authorities to protect the public and mandate the CPSC to regularly test more children's products for toxic chemicals.

    * Parents and teachers should look for the AP label posted on items by the Art & Creative Materials Institute ("ACMI"). For items not certified by the ACMI, parents should look for a manufacturer's label certifying that the product meets CPSC guidelines for children. 

    * Parents should demand that manufacturers without a label start carrying a label, and that the products meet the safety guidelines.

    Consumer Guide for Finding Non-Toxic School Supplies

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    For Immediate Release

    A new federal law eliminates fees for getting and removing credit freezes across the country at the three nationwide credit bureaus on September 21st. Washington state consumers have had access to free credit freezes since June 7 of this year, and we have previously discussed how the national law weakens stronger laws in states like Washington. The consumer advocacy group WashPIRG Foundation recommends getting credit freezes, not the similar locks offered by the bureaus, to prevent new account identity theft.

    "It’s about time the credit bureaus stopped charging us for the right to control our own information. We didn’t give them permission to collect or sell our information in the first place," said Elise Orlick, WashPIRG Foundation Director.

    WashPIRG Foundation points out the following consumer tips about credit freezes:

    • By freezing access to your credit reports, you’re stopping identity thieves who apply for new accounts in your name using your stolen Social Security number. The new law also lets guardians create and freeze credit files for minors.

    • Because creditors run credit checks with any one or a combination of the three big credit bureaus, you need to block access to your reports with each of the three individually. Getting a freeze with one bureau but not the others is like locking your front door but leaving your garage and back door wide open.

    • You can place freezes online with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.  You can place them by mail or by phone.

    • You can easily temporarily lift a freeze when you want to apply for new credit, or permanently remove a freeze.

    • Each bureau will give you a PIN with your credit freeze. You will use this PIN when you want to lift a freeze to apply for new credit.

    • If you are applying for credit, try to find out which credit bureau the business uses to check credit reports. You can save some time by only lifting your freeze for that credit bureau.

    • Make sure to account for the time it can take to lift a freeze. In most cases, if you request a lift online or over the phone, your report can be unfrozen within minutes (legally, it has to be done within an hour.) It can take longer if you don’t have your PIN, so make sure to keep your PIN in a safe, memorable place where you can quickly retrieve it when needed. If you request a freeze via U.S. mail, it can take up to three days after the bureau receives your request.

    • Some news outlets have reported that cell phone companies have opened fraudulent accounts using credit reports provided by the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE). We therefore also recommend freezing your credit report at NCTUE.

    • The credit bureaus offer a similar (but different) product called a credit lock. Credit freezes are a right mandated by law. Companies don’t get to set conditional terms on freezes, like they can on credit locks. For example, if you sign up for free credit locks with Equifax and TransUnion, they can use your information for marketing purposes and share it with other financial companies that want to sell you something. TransUnion makes you agree to an arbitration clause.

    In addition to recommending credit freezes, WashPIRG Foundation offers tips, explained further in its recent report Equifax Breach: One Year Later, to help consumers prevent and detect other types of identity theft and fraud: 

    • Existing Account Fraud: Check your monthly credit card and bank statements.

    • Tax Refund Fraud: File your taxes as soon as possible, before thieves do. Also, if you qualify, get an Identity Protection (IP) PIN.

    • Health Care Services / Medical Benefits Fraud: Sign up for online accounts with your health care and insurance providers to periodically check for any fraudulent services on your statements.

    • Other Fraudulent Activity: Check your free annual consumer reports with companies that specialize in collecting information often misused by criminals.

    • Phishing Scams: Ignore requests for personal information by email, links, phone calls, etc.

    “The threat of identity theft is unfortunately all too real. But you can take steps to prevent and detect different types.” said Orlick. “Start with credit freezes if you don’t have them already. You should get your free credit freezes today, because each day that goes by is another day an identity thief could open accounts and rack up a ton of debt in your name.”

    ###

    WashPIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.

    Other Steps Listed to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft
    WashPIRG Foundation

    Our press release about the national free credit freeze law that goes into effect today. It includes tips about credit freezes and other steps consumers can take to protect themselves from different types of identity theft and fraud. 


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    For Immediate Release

    Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."

    Ed Mierzwinski, the senior director of U.S. PIRG's consumer program, and a leading voice for consumer privacy protections for decades, released the following statement:

    "Early reports of yet another big breach, this one where hackers apparently exploited Facebook vulnerabilities to expose the data of 50 million users, are very troubling. It's yet another warning that Congress must not enact any national data security or data breach legislation that weakens current state privacy laws, preempts the rights of states to pass new laws that protect their consumers better, or denies their attorneys general rights to investigate violations of or enforce those laws."

    50 million users had their accounts compromised
    U.S. PIRG

    Facebook announced today that earlier this week, "attackers exploited a vulnerability in Facebook’s code that impacted “View As”, a feature that lets people see what their own profile looks like to someone else. This allowed them to steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people’s accounts."


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    For Immediate Release

    This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.

    “No one should worry about whether or not the toy they’re buying is toxic or dangerous. But in 2018, we’re still finding hazards in some of the most popular toys. Toy manufacturers must do better to ensure their products are safe before they end up in children’s hands and mouths,” said Adam Garber, Consumer Watchdog for U.S. PIRG.

    For more than 30 years, Trouble in Toyland has issued toy safety guidelines and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards to small children. Key findings from this year’s report include:

    • Hazardous Slime: A number of popular ‘slimes’ had toxic levels of boron, likely in the form of borax, up to fifteen times the European Union’s limit. According to the EPA, ingesting boron can cause nausea, vomiting, long-term reproductive health issues and can even be fatal.
    • Missing Online Choking Warnings: In a survey of five search pages for balloons sold on Amazon, U.S. PIRG found no choking hazard labels on 87 percent of the latex balloons marketed to parents of children under 2, an apparent violation of the law. Among children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death.
    • Privacy-Invasive Smart Toys: The report also highlights two smart toys -- a robot toy and a tablet -- with privacy concerns discovered by an investigation by the Mozilla Foundation. Every year, the potential for smart toys to expose private data becomes a more significant concern.

    Given the popularity of slime, that class of toys was a primary focus.

    "Boron is a potentially toxic substance that should not be ingested by children as it's associated with negative effects in all body systems, said Dr. Daniel Rauch, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. "It is best that children avoid any exposure to ensure they are healthy and parents take appropriate action if it is ingested in any form."  

    While there are currently no limits on boron in children’s toys in the United States, U.S. PIRG called for placing warning labels on products and a full public hearing to determine safe levels of boron.  
     

    “Regulators need to determine the appropriate health-based standards to protect children from boron in slime. In the meantime, we want parents to know the risks, so they can supervise their kids accordingly,” said Tano Toussaint, U.S. PIRG's consumer watchdog associate.

    In addition to identifying dangerous toys already on store shelves, U.S. PIRG provides a guide on how parents, grandparents and other caretakers can ensure toys are safe and stay updated on recalled toys at www.ToySafetyTips.org.

    U.S. PIRG’S Trouble in Toyland finds dangerous toys on shelves during holiday shopping season
    U.S. PIRG Education Fund

    This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. U.S. PIRG’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron, which can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues, in slime products as well as fining that Amazon failed to appropriately label choking hazards.


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    For Immediate Release

    Seattle - This holiday season, consumers can pay even less than they would on Black Friday for electronics, if they buy them used and refurbished. Fixed for the Holidays, a new consumer guide from WashPIRG Foundation, helps consumers purchase used items with confidence -- detailing what to buy, how to recognize a good deal and where to shop.

    “Not only can you save 20 percent or more by shopping refurbished, buying used products is better for the environment and cuts waste,” added Elise Orlick, WashPIRG Foundation Director. “It’s a win-win for the person getting the electronics and his or her community.”

    The Fixed for the Holidays guide has information including:

    • Four tips on what makes a good refurbished gift

    • The risks you might encounter in buying used products

    • Where to shop for refurbished electronics

    • How to know if you are getting a good price

    • How to get your money back if there are issues

    WashPIRG partnered with InterConnection, a local nonprofit that refurbishes used electronics, to release the report. InterConnection’s mission is to bridge the digital divide by providing high-quality electronics to non-profits and low-income communities, which they do through technology grants and their resale store. The store offers reduced prices for non-profit organizations and low-income customers.

    Refurbished electronics are only an option when people have the tools and knowledge to repair used products. WashPIRG Foundation’s sister 501(c)(4), WashPIRG, supports “Right to Repair” reforms to require manufacturers to give consumers and third parties access to the parts and information necessary to fix our electronics. Last year, a version of this legislation passed out of the Washington House Committee on Technology and Economic Development by a large bipartisan majority. Rep. Morris (40th District) is expected to introduce this legislation again in the 2019 session.

    “Repair cuts costs for consumers and cuts down on the electronics headed for the scrap heap,” added Orlick. “Buying refurbished is a great way to support the right to repair.”

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    WashPIRG Foundation is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety, or well-being.

    WashPIRG Foundation releases holiday guide to buying repaired or refurbished electronics with confidence they will last
    WashPIRG Foundation

    This holiday season, consumers can pay even less than they would on Black Friday for electronics, if they buy them used and refurbished. “Fixed for the Holidays” helps consumers purchase used items with confidence -- detailing what to buy, how to recognize a good deal and where to shop.


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