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Stories on dangerous toys, failed regulatory system wins Pulitzer Prize

The Chicago Tribune scored a Pulitzer prize today for its investigation into the failings of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and its inability to protect our children from toys that can kill them. Read the series, “Hidden Hazards: Our Kids at Risk,” and you can’t help but get angry. There are stories like the preschool teacher who warned the CPSC about a magnetic toy that almost killed one of her students. Do something before a child dies, Sharon Grigsby pleaded. She got a form letter back telling her the CPSC would look into her complaints. Six months later, her fears came true when a Seattle toddler swallowed magnets from the same toy the teacher had warned the CPSC about. That child died before his parents could reach the emergency room.

An excerpt from the Trib series:

Childhood play always has come with risks. Parents expect skinned knees, even the occasional broken bone, from a fall off a bike or jungle gym. They don’t expect pieces from a broken toy to rip holes through a child’s gut like a gunshot, which is what happened with Magnetix.

Government regulators knew magnets could cause these dire injuries. And they knew it well before magnets started falling out of Magnetix toys, which allow kids to fashion complicated geometric structures out of colorful plastic pieces.

CPSC investigators in 2000 and again in 2003 documented cases of children suffering intestinal injuries after swallowing magnets from other products.

The CPSC didn’t act, though, even as toymakers’ use of such magnets skyrocketed. Nor did the agency respond when parents and caregivers complained that magnets were falling out of Magnetix toys. It didn’t listen when Grigsby warned that a boy had been severely injured and that Magnetix could kill.

The agency didn’t take action until after Kenny Sweet died.

“If they would have taken me seriously,” Grigsby said, “that little boy would be alive.”

The Tribune series helped shine a light on the underfunded, undermanned CPSC and played a role in the passage of a law this year to help strengthen the agency.

Public Citizen has been at the forefront of the fight to reform the CPSC. A report we released last year, examined how some manufacturers of hazardous products wait years before they report problems to the CPSC, while the CPSC can then take another seven months before it announces the dangers with the product to the public.