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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 04:01 GMT
Christmas toys 'are hearing risk'
Toys may play a crucial part in development
Many toys available this Christmas could damage a child's hearing, the charity Deafness Research UK warns.

Fourteen of 15 toys tested produced noise levels above the recommended safety limit of 85 decibels (dBA) when held close to the ear.

Half the toys tested also produced high readings when measured at 25cm - about an arm's length away.

But the Toy Retailers Association said European standards stated that tests should be done at 50cm, and not 25cm.

This was confirmed by the British Standards Institute, but the researchers argued that 25cm was a more realistic measure of the distance at which children commonly hold toys.

The tests were carried out by the Ear Institute at University College London.

With most toys, your child will only damage their hearing if they use them too often and for too long a duration, or if they stick them in their ear
Dr Brad Backus

The most noisy toys were found to be toy guns, including a mechanical toy machine gun, a plastic tommy gun and a cap gun.

They had the potential to cause serious damage to a child's hearing and could cause instant hearing loss, the researchers said.

Other toys tested included bestsellers such as Pixar Cars 'Lightening McQueen', Fireman Sam's Action Jupiter and Tomy's 'Spin n'Sound' remote-controlled car.

Realistic distance

Experts say prolonged exposure to any noise about 85dBA has the potential to cause damage to hearing.

Fourteen of the 15 toys were found to have average noise levels of 84-115dBA when held close to a microphone.

Only one, a VTECH mobile phone for babies, was found to have a noise level below the safety threshold.

Noise is measured in dBA, a decibel scale modified to take into account the sensitivity of human ears to different pitches of sound
An increase or decrease of 3 dBA represents a doubling or halving of intensity
However, due to the way we hear sounds, a person with normal hearing will only think a sound has doubled in loudness when it is ten times more intense
An average conversation will reach around 60 dBA while a busy street can peak at 80 to 90 dBA

When tested at 25cm, a realistic distance a child would hold the toy during normal play, eight of the 15 toys had average levels of 81-105dBA.

The toy guns registered a peak reading of 143 decibels at 2.5cm, and 140 decibels at 25cm.

Researcher Dr Brad Backus said: "Children's toys clearly have the potential to do harm to their hearing so it's important that people are aware of the dangers and what to do about them.

"With most of the toys we tested, apart from the guns, there is a potential for harm but they're safe if used sensibly.

"With most toys, your child will only damage their hearing if they use them too often and for too long a duration, or if they stick them in their ear."

Dr Backus said parents should ensure that their children did not hold noisy toys too close to their ear, or let them play with them for more than an hour a day.

'Safety taken seriously'

However, he said the toy guns gave the most cause for concern.

"They were so loud that my ears were ringing for a while after the testing.

"If I had children, I wouldn't give any of these gun-toys to them, and I would recommend that people avoid them. They have the very real potential to cause permanent hearing loss."

Smiffy's, which manufactures the three guns featured in the study, issued a statement saying: "Our products are regularly tested to comply with all relevant standards and test compliance certificates are held for the products you mention.

"We take product safety extremely seriously and would welcome a copy of Dr Backus's report."

In a statement, the Toy Retailers Association warned the research might give a distorted view, as, in most cases, EU standards required noise measurements at 50cm.

It said it was far from clear whether any toys had failed to comply with these standards.

"Parental supervision is a key part of all play and they are the most sensible and concerned partners in everyone's endeavour to ensure our children's safety."

Noisy Toys
Toy Average noise level [dB]
Close to ear [2.5cm] At arms length [25 cm]
Smiffy's Detective Gun (cap) 143.3* 137.5*
AR-18 Toy Assault Rifle 139.1* 129.9*
Gangster Tommy Gun 129.9* 123.5*
Laser Command 100.1 88.6
Fireman Sam Friction Action Jupiter 100 75.2
Power Gear Max Sound Fazer 97.2 85.6
Pixar Cars Lightning McQueen 96 82.5
Tomy Remote Control Car 95.8 81.3
VTech Pop Up Surprise Ball 94.7 75
Doctor Who Mini R/C Dalek Battle Pack 93.4 70
Kids Way Electronic Guitar 90.9 79.1
Fisher Price Dance Baby Dance Buildin Band 88.4 73.3
VTech Nursery Rhymes Book 84.9 76.5
Leap Frog Alphabet Pal 84.2 81.1
Vtech Tiny Touch phone 72.1 n/a
All measurements dB(A) average reading, except * - dB(C)peak reading
Source: Deafness Research


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