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Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 10 News List

US agency says Zhu Zhu hamsters meet safety rules


Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamsters — one of the holiday season’s hottest toy crazes — do not violate safety standards, US federal toy regulators said on Monday after a consumer group raised concerns over the presence of a heavy metal on one model.

The toy “is not out of compliance” with a US toy safety law that went into effect this year, a spokesman for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said. The agency did not test the toy.

The California-based consumer group GoodGuide raised concerns on Saturday over the presence of a potentially harmful heavy metal in the “Mr Squiggles” model of the robotic hamsters.

The group said its testing found antimony — a heavy metal that can cause vomiting if ingested and heart and lung problems if breathed in — on the furry toy’s hair and nose in levels that exceeded new federal limits.

Those claims fell apart on Monday, when GoodGuide said the way it got its test results — using a special gun that shoots ­X-rays into a toy and gives a reading for how much lead, antimony or other substances are in the material — is not recognized by the CPSC for judging whether a toy is hazardous.

Instead, the CPSC tests how much of a heavy metal would actually seep out if a child sucked or swallowed a toy — not just how much of a potentially dangerous substance a toy contains.

“While we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards,” GoodGuide said in a written release. “We regret this error.”

Later in the day, the CPSC said it has concluded the toy, which retails for about US$10, does not pose a threat based on independent testing presented by the toy’s manufacturer, St Louis-based Cepia LLC.

“CPSC confirmed today that the popular Zhu Zhu toy is not out of compliance with the antimony or other heavy metal limits of the new US mandatory toy standard,” agency spokesman Scott Wolfson said.

The toy’s maker had vehemently defended Zhu Zhu Pets’ safety from the start.

The bad publicity did not hurt sales of the toy, Cepia said. On Saturday and Sunday, the company logged its biggest weekend of the year to date, said Bruce Katz, senior vice president for sales. He said hundreds of thousands of the toy were sold, but would not specify beyond that.

Katz would not say whether Cepia would sue GoodGuide. The consumer group did not respond to requests for comment.

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