Consumer Group Cites Zhu Zhu Safety One of the hottest toys of this holiday season, Zhu Zhu robotic hamsters, is under scrutiny for a possible safety issue. A consumer group claims that one variety of the toy contains unsafe levels of a toxic chemical. The manufacturer disputes the allegation.
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Consumer Group Cites Zhu Zhu Safety

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Consumer Group Cites Zhu Zhu Safety

Consumer Group Cites Zhu Zhu Safety

Consumer Group Cites Zhu Zhu Safety

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One of the hottest toys of this holiday season, Zhu Zhu robotic hamsters, is under scrutiny for a possible safety issue. A consumer group claims that one variety of the toy contains unsafe levels of a toxic chemical. The manufacturer disputes the allegation.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now an update to our report last week on one of the season's hottest new toys: the Zhu Zhu pet. That's a robotic hamster that zips around and makes cute noises.

(Soundbite of Zhu Zhu pet)

NORRIS: Over the weekend, an online consumer safety group called the Good Guide said it had found high levels of a chemical element called antimony in one of the Zhu Zhu models, the one called Mr. Squiggles. The company that makes the toy says it meets all federal safety standards. Today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said it is reviewing the toy.

We're joined now by NPR's Wendy Kaufman to help us understand exactly what's going on. Wendy, does the Zhu Zhu toy have high levels of this chemical or not?

WENDY KAUFMAN: It depends on how you measure it. So, the Good Guide used essentially an x-ray gun and they measure how much of the chemical is in the toy by weight. They didn't explain this very well on their Web site. People got very, very excited and said, oh my goodness, this is over the limit for the federal safety standards, but in fact, it's not. The way you are supposed to test for this chemical under the U.S. federal standard is you try to figure out how much of this chemical is going to leach out or rub out. And when you do the test that way, the toy comes out with almost zero of this chemical, antimony.

And those tests were done by an independent certified testing lab, which is highly regarded. So, if you measure it the way the federal government requires it would be measured to meet the federal standard, you come up with very, very, very little amounts of this chemical.

NORRIS: When do you think the Consumer Product Safety Commission will resolve this?

KAUFMAN: I think from a legal standpoint it's pretty much resolved. The toy meets the standards that are now on the books for the CPSC. But I think both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the toymaker want to make sure that people understand, you know, if the toy is safe and if so, can they demonstrate that? So I think we'll see a resolution fairly quickly.

NORRIS: The company that makes the Zhu Zhu released documentation from their testing. How unusual is it for a toy company to provide that kind of documentation?

KAUFMAN: It's extremely unusual. They put out 11 pages of highly scientific, you know, pages and pages of numbers of exactly what tests were done and how they were done. And what was particularly interesting about this is until recently we would never have seen that kind of documentation. In many cases, it wasn't even required. In fact, the law that requires third-party testing doesn't go into effect until this coming February, although lots of companies, including the Zhu Zhu toymakers, are already doing that third-party testing. So we got a little peek at some of the changes that have come about since 2007, when there were all those problems with lead and other chemicals in toys.

NORRIS: And remind us about those problems. Is this what prompted the changes in the safety standards?

KAUFMAN: Absolutely. You may recall there were lots and - thousands and thousands of toys and kids' jewelry, things were recalled, lots of lead. Congress was very upset, thought the government wasn't doing its job. And subsequently, we put in much tougher toy safety standards, the biggest one is lead. The amount of lead in kids' toys has gone down quite dramatically. One of the things that's happened is the toymakers, including the Zhu Zhu people, go to China and make sure that their factories are doing things the right way. So, it is fair to say, I think, Michele, that toys are a lot safer than they were two years ago.

Are they completely safe? Is every single toy on the market, you know, perfect for a kid to put in their mouth? Of course not. But toys are definitely safer than they were a couple of years ago. And more safety standards are probably on the way.

NORRIS: Thank you, Wendy.

KAUFMAN: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Wendy Kaufman.

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