There is Trouble in Toyland

Read the 2015 Trouble in Toyland report to help you avoid potentially hazardous toys.

For the past 30 years, US PIRG Education Fund and Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund have conducted an annual survey of toy safety, which has led to over 150 recalls and other regulatory actions and has helped educate the public and policymakers on the need for continued action to protect the health and well-being of children.

This report is another example of the ongoing work to protect the most vulnerable among us from the hidden hazards that can be found on our store shelves.

Here in Vermont, we continue to move forward positive reforms. Just last week the legislature adopted rules for the Toxic Free Families Act that will require the nation’s most comprehensive reporting of toxic chemicals in children’s products.  Starting next year, parents and consumers will be able to use this information to know exactly which products contain chemicals of concern and make informed decisions about the products that they buy.

In the meantime this report gives consumers valuable information not just about potential chemical exposure, but other very real hazards. Among the toys surveyed this year, we found potential choking and noise hazards, and four toys with concentrations of toxic substances exceeding federal standards. 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.

Standards for toy safety are enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). 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.

The continued presence of hazards in toys highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that children are not harmed by unsafe toys.

Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund and US PIRG Education Fund staff examined hundreds of toys to confirm that they are safe. We discovered that unsafe toys remain widely available. 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 a jump rope purchased by our shoppers 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, toy car and plane, a Dory figurine, a mini vortex football, and a toy mermaid.
  • 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. We found three balloon sets on store shelves marketed to children under eight.
  • 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.
  • 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 ellipsoid magnets that are just larger than the small parts cylinder. 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 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 which included a toy animal, car, flashlight, magnetic letter set, and a remote.

Parents can also take steps to protect children from potential hazards. We recommend that parents:

  • Shop with 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.