This holiday season, finding the perfect gift won’t be the only concern for hurried parents scouring the aisles of every toy store.

They will also have to consider whether the Vtech Bright Lights Phone they just put in their cart could cause hearing loss in their child.

The Bright Lights Phone is just one of the toys that made it onto this year’s Unsafe Toy List released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group as a part of their Trouble in Toyland report.

“In the past the report has led to 130 recalls and other actions,” Jenn Hatch, program associate at Connecticut PIRG, said.

This is the 24th year the report has been issued and its goal continues to be helping parents avoid toys that are unsafe for their children. This year the report focuses on educating parents about toys that are potential choking hazards, toys that are too loud and toys that contain the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates.

For most parents, reading through the entire 34 page report might be a little more work than they can handle during this busy time of year. That is why, as a part of the 2009 Trouble in Toyland report, the U.S. PIRG has made a mobile tool available for shoppers to access easily from their internet capable mobile phones.

The internet tool, which can be found at here, includes a list of unsafe toys and useful information on how to avoid toys that have the potential to be choking hazards, are excessively loud or could contain toxic chemicals.

The test for avoiding choking hazards is as easy as making sure the smallest pieces of the toy can’t fit entirely in a cardboard toilet paper tube. To avoid excessively loud toys, the internet tool suggests that if the toy is too loud for your adult ears it is definitely too loud for a young child’s.

Toxic chemicals, however, can’t be as easily screened by shoppers.

Parents can’t tell if these toxins exist simply by looking the toy over. Toys that are suspected of having elevated levels of lead or other toxins have to be tested in a lab to determine if the levels are too high.

“The only way to truly avoid [phthalates] is to not buy soft plastic. [For example, toys such as] rubber duckies, bath books or toys, raincoats all have had phthalates. The law that we passed prohibits phthalates in toys and child care articles, but that doesn’t completely get phthalates out of a child’s life,” Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate at U.S. PIRG, said.

Completely avoiding any soft plastics is one option, but the U.S. PIRG Internet Tool also provides another option for consumers. As a part of the tool consumers can report a toy that they think might be a potential hazard. A group of researchers for PIRG will then go through the testing process to determine if the toy is indeed dangerous.

Using the report form on the “report a toy” feature will send PIRG an email with the requested toy to be checked. The toy will then be tested and the results will be sent back to the parent using the email address they provided in the form. Besides alerting the person who requested the test, toys that are confirmed hazards will be added to the 2009 list of hazardous toys and the manufacturer and the Consumer Product Safety Commission will also be notified as well.

“Parent submitted toys will only be added to the website once the toy has been checked by PIRG staff. This crowd-sourcing of toy safety hazards will help us identify more hazards and reduce injury and death from dangerous toys. It will also engage parents and encourage sharing of the site and tool,” Hatch said.

Sarah Uhl, Environmental Health Coordinator at Clean Water Action, supports educating consumers about lead and phthalates, but also notes that these aren’t the only chemicals to be concerned about.

“[Lead and phthalates] are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to toxins,” said Uhl.

Clean Water Action, working with the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut, will co-release a more complete list of over 700 toys tested for various toxins on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

All of these reports are important in getting more vigorous legislation passed to protect consumers from these dangerous chemicals and Connecticut has had an active role in setting the example nationally.

In 2008, Connecticut passed legislation to ban lead and asbestos from children’s products and was the third state to start to phase out the use of lead in children’s products and the first to start to phase out asbestos.

Seeing this legislation of the state level, “congress realized it was time to act on the federal level,” said Uhl.

“The reason [the Federal Toxic Toy Bill] passed is because states like CT were leading the way,” said Uhl.

Industry Questions Accuracy of PIRG report

Toy Industry Association, a not-for-profit trade association representing more than 500 companies whose products comprise approximately 85 percent of domestic toy sales is questioning PIRG’s “Trouble in Toyland” report.

Joan Lawrence, vice president of safety at the Toy Industry Association and a mother of three young children herself, says many of the items identified by PIRG are not actually toys. She says they’re items such as children’s jewelry and purses.

Also the report alleges “small parts” in some products when the products do not actually contain small parts under the federal standard and the report mis-attributed a product to a company that did not actually produce the toy, Lawrence said Tuesday evening.

“For these reasons, TIA questions the overall accuracy of the PIRG report and believes that it may needlessly frighten parents,” Lawrence said.