FLORIDA—Trouble in Toyland, the annual survey of toy safety conducted by the Florida Public Interest Research Group (“PIRG”) Education Fund, highlights toys that pose various dangers to children ranging from unsafe levels of toxic chemicals to the possibility of choking. The survey has resulted in more than 150 toy recalls and other regulatory actions during its 30 years. Among the toys surveyed in the most recent report this past year, findings included potential choking and noise hazards, one toy that exceeded federal toxic standards, and three toys that preliminary testing showed may exceed federal standards.
Though toy safety guidelines are stricter than they have ever been, the reality is that more than 200,000 children are treated every year in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries. Despite the progress in recent years, the recurring presence of hazards in toys continues to highlight the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to prevent these trips to the hospital and, ultimately, ensure that U.S. children are not harmed by unsafe toys.
Depending on the materials used and the quality and nature of the product itself, the risks for children posed by toys and other products range from choking on small parts to suffering from dangerous chemical reactions in the body. To control and minimize these risks, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) has been charged with the task of enforcing standards for toy safety. Safety standards include limits on toxic substances in children’s products, size requirements for toys for small children, warning labels about choking hazards, measures to keep magnets and batteries inaccessible, and noise limits.
With regards to the key findings from this report, PIRG Education Fund stated the following, in pertinent part:
U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff examined hundreds of toys to confirm that they are safe. We discovered that unsafe toys remain widely available (Note: This report not only lists the potentially dangerous toys that we found this year, but also describes why and how the toys could harm children).
The Problems We Found Include:
- Chromium*. Skin contact with chromium can cause severe allergic reactions including skin redness, swelling, and ulcers. Chromium compounds are also known to cause cancer. This year, preliminary testing revealed 3 toys that may contain unsafe levels of chromium: Minions pencil case, Slinky Jr., and magnetic numbers, and we call on the CPSC to do further testing on these toys.
- Phthalates*. Exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development may harm development of the male reproductive system, and is linked to early puberty. Lab tests confirmed that the Fun Bubbles jump rope our shoppers purchased from Dollar Tree contained phthalates at levels greater than the legal limit.
- Small parts are pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age three, can choke on small parts. Our shoppers identified several toys that contain or may break into small parts, but either do not have the correct U.S. statutory warning label, or any warning label at all. These included: a fairy wand from Dollar Tree; a Disney toy car and Disney plane from Marshalls; a Disney Finding Nemo Dory figurine and G2 Air mini vortex football from Five Below; and a Nickelodeon Dora the Explorer toy mermaid from Target.
- Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choking hazard for children three years and younger. We found Magic Towels packaged as a small baseball and a small football at Dollar Tree which did not have the appropriate small ball warning label. We also remain concerned about other small, rounded toys, such as toy food, that present the same choke hazard as small balls, but are not labeled as a hazard.
- Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. Consequently, all balloon packages must include a warning label reading that children under eight can choke on balloons and balloon parts. However, we found three balloon sets from Party City which included a second, confusing label indicating that the products are for children ages three and older: the Balloon Animal Kit, Mega Value Pack 16 Latex Punch Balloons, and Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs.
- Magnets. When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, they can have fatal health consequences as their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, perforating intestinal walls. We found that two ellipsoid magnets, the Sizzlers noise magnets from Family Dollar and the Singing magnets from Dollar Tree, are just larger than the small parts cylinder, which places them in the “near-small-parts” category. While we believe these magnets do not technically violate any standards, we include them because their “near-small-parts” size is a concern. We also note that following aggressive enforcement of an all-out ban by the CPSC, small powerful magnets that do fit in the choke test cylinder are nearly impossible to purchase, although we did find one foreign Internet site that still sells them.
- Excessive Noise. Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children, because hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development. Our shoppers found five toys from Target marketed to children under three years that are estimated to be either at or slightly above the decibel standards recommended for close-to-the-ear toys. These excessively loud toys included: the Vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels, Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals, Vtech Spin & Learn Color Flashlight, Fisher Price Click n Learn Remote, and Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set.
- Lead*. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to undermine IQ, attentiveness, and academic achievement. While our shoppers did not find any toys with high levels of lead, the CPSC has recalled toys due to lead limit violations this year.
* = Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. We had chemical testing done at a lab which is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”).
Policymakers Should Continue Building Upon Recent Progress in the Strengthening of Toy Safety Standards. The CPSC should:
- Continue to vigorously enforce the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s mandatory standards for toys, including strict limits on lead and lead paint in any toys, jewelry, or other articles for children under 12 years;
- Vigorously enforce the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s permanent ban on the use of three specific phthalates in all toys and children’s products;
- Upgrade the interim ban on three additional phthalates into a permanent prohibition and expand it to include additional phthalates;
- Enlarge the small parts test tube to be more protective of children under three;
- Change the small-ball rule to include small round or semi-round objects, and not just “balls” in the strictest definition, since these toys pose the same hazards as small balls, especially rounded toy food, since they are “intended” to be eaten;
- Continue to enforce the use of the United States’ statutory choke hazard warning label;
- Continue to enforce CPSC rules requiring online warning labels; and
- Fully enforce sound and battery standards.
Parents Can Also Take Steps to Protect Children From Potential Hazards. We Recommend That Parents:
- Shop with U.S. PIRG Ed Fund’s Toy Safety Tips, available at toysafetytips.org;
- Examine toys carefully for hazards before purchase – and don’t trust that they are safe just because they are on a store shelf;
- Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at www.saferproducts.gov.
- Subscribe to government announcements of recalled products at www.recalls.gov; and
- Remember, toys on our list are presented as examples only. Other hazards may exist.
For Toys You Already Own
- Remove small batteries if there is any question over their security or inaccessibility and keep them out of reach of children;
- Remove batteries from, or tape over, the speakers of toys you already own that are too loud; and
- Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths.
Mike Litt, PIRG EDUCATION FUND NEWS RELEASE: 30th Annual Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelf (Nov. 24, 2015), available at http://www.uspirg.org/news/usp/30th-annual-survey-finds-dangerous-toys-store-shelves.
Dev Gowda, Grace Lee & Carli Jensen, FLORIDA PIRG EDUC. FUND, Trouble in Toyland – The 30th Annual Survey of Toy Safety (30th ed., Nov. 2015), available at http://www.fcan.org/reports/FLP%20Toyland%20Report%20Nov15%281%29.pdf.
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