For nearly 30 years, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund has conducted an annual survey of toy safety, and each year it continues to find harmful toys for sale.
Among the toys surveyed this year, it found many toys with choking hazards and five toys with toxins exceeding federal standards.
Standards for toy safety are enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Safety standards include limits on toxics 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 problems the staff who conducted the review found include:
- Lead. Childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can undermine development, damaging academic achievement and attentiveness. The staff found unsafe levels of lead in one set of play sheriff and police badges.
- 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, lab tests revealed that a tambourine marketed to children ages two and older contained chromium at nearly 10 times the legal limit.
- 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 several items purchased by U.S. PIRG shoppers contained high levels of banned phthalates. Those items include a rubber duck, plastic-covered hairclips, and a Dora the Explorer backpack.
- Small parts are pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age 3, can choke on small parts. U.S. PIRG shoppers purchased a set of foam blocks marketed to children 2 and up that contained multiple small parts that fit into a choke test cylinder. Staff also identified multiple toys containing near-small parts, which are pieces that almost fit into the choke tube and can be a choking hazard.
- Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choke hazard for children 3 years old and younger. Staff found small balls that weren’t labeled with the appropriate choke hazard warning. Also of concern are other small, rounded toys, such as toy food, that present the same choke hazard as small balls but aren’t 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. As in past years, U.S. PIRG continue to find balloons on store shelves marketed to children under 8.
- 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. U.S. PIRG shoppers purchased small, high-powered magnets, despite their being recalled by the CPSC.
- Batteries. When batteries are ingested, chemical reactions can burn through the esophagus and blood vessels, causing fatal internal bleeding. U.S. PIRG shoppers purchased a toy whale that contains batteries that are accessible to small children and are nearly small enough to constitute a choke hazard. The toy has been recalled in Australia because small children can easily remove the batteries.
- Excessive noise. Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children: Hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development. This year, U.S. PIRG shoppers found toys that are loud, though not necessarily in violation of federal limits.
Despite recent progress in making toys safer, U.S. PIRG said the findings of its 2014 investigation, as well as recent recalls and legal actions against importers, highlight the need for continued attention to shortcomings in existing standards and vigilance on the part of the shopping public.
For details on the hazardous toys that were found in the investigation, see “Why These 24 Toys Are Hazardous.”
To read the report on dangerous toys, see “Trouble in Toyland 2014.”