Zhu On This!

By Chris Byrne

PR says a toy may be toxic—but only to your peace of mind.

I woke up this morning to news reports that the hottest toy of the season may have toxic levels of dangerous chemicals in it.

“Not again,” I thought.

And, as it turns out, I was right. It’s not true. Instead, a self-proclaimed consumer watchdog site Good Guide was promoting its testing that indicated that the Zhu Zhu pets had toxic levels of aluminum and antimony in them, in excess of current Federal standards.

After all the hysteria of the morning news shows died down, the fact of the matter is that this is very likely nothing more than a craven PR grab on the part of this site. Toys are always “lighting rod” issues, and if you can convince a news director that a toy might be dangerous, that’s a recipe for coverage.

Within hours of the story breaking, it seemed like people all over the country had heard about the Zhu Zhu pets and their potential hazard. To the credit of all the news coverage, however, they presented really balanced stories, saying that Cepia maintains that the toys are safe, and that the toys had passed all CPSC testing.

I was just interviewed for ABC News and said that the methodology of the testing was flawed. The x-ray used tests the surface of the toy. It’s not even a test designed for toys! The real tests use solubility in which the toy is destroyed and broken down in a chemical solution. Moreover, Good Guide said they tested only one hamster toy.

Well, there’s no better way to get headlines than to scare people that their children might be in danger. But I’m not such a big fan of that kind of thing. By this afternoon, Good Guide was back-pedaling, and the comments on their site and the blogs were mostly negative about the testing.

Is there good news out of this?

Sure. First and foremost, it’s highly likely that subsequent CPSC testing and review of all independent laboratory tests will show that the Zhu Zhu Pets are completely conforming.

More importantly, after an initial scare, many people understand that they’ve potentially been played.

Here’s what we recommend: Don’t listen to these self-proclaimed watchdog groups. They’re trying to get you to visit their site by scaring you. Listen to the CPSC. They are the organization that sets the standards, conducts the testing and polices products.

And try not to worry. The only thing toxic in this scenario is the impact on your peace of mind. After the problems of 2007, standards have been significantly tightened. Toys that don’t conform can even get off the boat and into the supply chain. In addition to what manufacturers are required to do at every stage of production, retailers now have their own testing standards that every toy must meet.

There were a number of toys on the Good Guide list, but the only one they chose to promote as being potentially dangerous was the hottest toy of the year. I wonder how sincere they can really be about protecting children?

UPDATE (10:15 am, Tuesday, December 8, 2009)

According to reports on ABC News and in other news outlets, the CPSC has stated that the Zhu Zhu Pets conform to Federal safety standards. The agency undertook a swift review of the toy, following claims by a consumer group that the toys contained non-conforming levels of the heavy metals antimony and aluminum. The consumer group used a testing methodology that tests the surface of the toy, which can easily be corrupted once the package has been opened and admitted that they tested only one of the hamster toys. The CPSC, manufacturers and retailers use solubility tests, which result in an accurate reading of the presence of these metals in the toy.

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