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Consumer Group Says Popular Zhu Zhu Hamsters Are Unsafe

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Berkeley, CAArguably the hottest toy flying off the shelves this holiday season has just come under fire from a US consumer group for allegedly containing unsafe levels of antimony, a chemical that can cause cancer, lung and heart problems.

According to CNN, GoodGuide has found unsafe levels of antimony in "Mister Squiggles," the light-brown version of the much sought-after Zhu Zhu robotic hamsters.

GoodGuide partners with other companies to rate the social, environmental and health impacts of hundreds of products. Dara O'Rourke, a co-founder of GoodGuide, said that the organization tested the Zhu Zhu light-brown hamsters and "found levels of about 93 to 106 parts per million. The new federal standard is about 60 parts per billion."

The manufacturer counters that the toys are safe.

"All our products are subjected to several levels of rigorous safety testing conducted by our own internal teams, as well as the world's leading independent quality assurance testing organization and also by independent labs engaged by our retail partners," said Russ Hornsby, CEO of Cepia LLC, in a written statement. "The results of every test prove that our products are in compliance with all government and industry safety standards."

A senior vice president of Cepia echoed those thoughts to CNN: "They do not contain high levels of antimony in any way," said Bruce Katz. "None of these tests have failed over the many months we've been producing this product."

According to a CBS News report posted online over the weekend, the Zhu Zhu hamster quickly became the must-have toy when it made its debut this season. There have been skirmishes in line-ups at some stores selling them.

However, the Bay Area-based GoodGuide told CBS News that if you have a Zhu Zhu hamster, you should keep the receipt.

"If ingested in high enough levels [it] can lead to cancer, reproductive health, and other human health hazards," says O'Rourke, who is also an associate professor of environmental science at the University of California at Berkeley.

"If these toys aren't even meeting the legal standards in the US then I would say that it isn't worth the risk for me to bring it into my household," said O'Rourke. He says that the danger arises when kids touch the toy and then touch their mouth, or put the toy directly in their mouth.

GoodGuide is not recommending that consumers throw them away, O'Rourke said. "But if you're concerned about it then we recommend that you call the company or potentially return the product if you feel it's not safe enough for your kids."

The Zhu Zhu line of robotic hamsters is made in China. The CNN report referenced the light-brown hamster. However, the CBS report did not differentiate between the four colors available.

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