Chinese-made toy cars sold in Vietnam deemed dangerous

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A Ho Chi Minh City market manager checks boxes of illegal Chinese-made toys at a store. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Toys made in China, along with many of the country's other products, have good reason to concern informed consumers, as quality testing agencies in Vietnam have once again confirmed they represent health risks.

The Southern Branch of Department for Goods Quality Control said in a Tuoi Tre report Thursday that recent tests found more than 200 times the permitted levels of phthalates, chemical compounds often used as plasticizers, on the wheels of battery-operated toy cars.

While Vietnam has yet to establish a limit for the compounds, the US and EU have restricted them to one gram per kilogram over concerns linking them to breast cancer, birth defects and reproductive difficulties, specifically changes in hormone levels.

"The danger is serious," Tran Van Xiem, head of the branch, said.

The agency seized the cars on the grounds that they had been smuggled, ordering the retailer, Toys Land 6 on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Phu Nhuan District in Ho Chi Minh City, to stop trading the product and the distributor to recall other cars on the market.

Phthalates are widely used in plastics and sometimes food products to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity.

The compounds release easily into the environment because there is no covalent bond between them and the plastics with which they are mixed. The release is accelerated by exposure to high temperatures, with children being most at risk due to their mouthing habit.

In January, the Consumer Goods Quality Management Department at the Ministry of Science and Technology announced it found the level of phthalates to be five grams per kilogram among Chinese-made plastic reindeers at a shop in Hanoi.

The inspection followed a recall by Singaporean retailer Aura Roboclean Singapore Pte Ltd of the same product after health authorities found unsafe levels of the substance.

Vietnam's department then had asked the Vietnam Institute of Chemistry to suggest an acceptable level of the compounds for toys, but as yet, no action has been taken.

The reindeers are still widely available, especially in Ho Chi Minh City's Chinatown, for between VND120,000 and 150,000 (US$5,65-7) apiece.

Ho Chi Minh City market managers also said they have seized nearly 20,000 Chinese toys smuggled illegally this year, including 4,500 banned products such as guns and swords.

One inspection at a store in an alley off Hau Giang Street in District 6, found toy guns that can shoot plastic bullets more than ten meters.

"Boys really like these guns but the consequences are unexpected, like bruises for light ones or blindness when one is shot in the eyes," a city market manager said.

The store owner could not produce legal documents for the products.

An earlier check at a store on Gia Phu Street in the same district found 2,000 illegal toy guns, 200 plastic swords and 80 kilograms of plastic bullets.

An official from Ho Chi Minh City Consumers Interest Protection Association said a series of busts of illegal and dangerous Chinese toys showed that the toy industry is being neglected, from controlling the inflow to punishing violators.

"The worrisome thing is that after a product is deemed dangerous, its recall is not taken seriously and the banned product remains available," said the unidentified official.

"Consumers no longer believe in toys on the market, as they do not know if they are safe or not."

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