Toy Safety

29th Annual "Trouble in Toyland" Survey Spotlights Risks in Latest Toys

On the surface, they appear harmless and inviting - toys such as the Leopard Pattern Rubber Duck, the Hello Kitty Bracelet and Hair Clips Accessory Set and the Disney Junior Doc McStuffins Figurine Playset.

But the colorful children's products, which no doubt will catch the eyes of kids and parents this holiday season, all share an unwanted distinction of being potential hazards for youngsters.

Those toys and many others are highlighted for posing various dangers - whether unsafe levels of toxic chemicals or the possibility of choking - are highlighted in Trouble in Toyland: the 29th annual Annual Survey of Toy Safety by the Florida PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund. The survey has resulted in 150 toy recalls during its nearly 30 years.

Though toy safety guidelines are stricter than they have ever been, the reality is that some 200,000 children are treated every year in hospital emergency departments for toy-related injuries. With so many toys on the market and new ones arriving every day, it's important to make sure the toys your child plays with are safe.

Toymakers are required to label most new toys for appropriate age groups. That said, perhaps the most important thing a parent of younger children can do is to supervise play, because year after year a new wave of seemingly innocent toys can potentially pose safety risks.

To help parents make informed purchases, products are meticulously examined - and flagged for any possible problems - in the "Trouble in Toyland" guide. The latest survey, now available on the Florida PIRG site, categorizes hazards in several basic categories: toxic metals (lead, chromium), phthalates (chemicals that can adversely affect development and have been linked, in at least one form, to cancer), choking hazards (marbles, balloons, small balls, and vending-machine toys), magnets, batteries and excessive noise.

In June, according to the Florida PIRG study, a California judge issued an order to prevent four companies within the state to stop importing, selling and distributing toys that they knew contained illegal amounts of lead, phthalates or small objects that children could choke on. And last month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission revealed that McDonald's was recalling 2.3-million Hello Kitty Whistles distributed in Happy Meals, since parts of the whistle could come apart and become a choking hazard.

Those are just two examples that underscore the problem, requiring constant vigilance by consumer protection agencies - and parents.

With that in mind, here is a closer look at some potentially troublesome toys this year as presented in the new Trouble in Toyland report:

Toys Containing Phthalates

  • Hello Kitty Bracelet and Hairclips Accessory Set
    The plastic covering the hairclips contains 5,100 ppm of the phthalate DEHP, above the legal limit of 1,000 ppm.
  • Dora the Explorer backpack
    The plastic portion of the backpack contains 200,000 ppm of the phthalate DEHP and 3,000 ppm DINP, both of which are banned above 1,000 ppm.
  • Leopard pattern rubber duck
    The duck contains 1,400 ppm of the phthalate DINP, above the legal limit of 1,000 ppm.

You can use a paper towel or toilet tissue cardboard roll to conduct your own test. If an object fits inside, a child could choke on it

Choking Hazards

(Note: Special test tubes are utilized to determine choking hazards in children, but you can use a paper towel or toilet tissue cardboard roll to conduct your own test. If an object fits inside, a child could choke on it).

  • Edushape 80 Pieces Textured Block
    The smallest semi-circular foam blocks in this set fit into the choke test cylinder. (Not every set purchased for the text contained these small parts.) Small parts are not allowed in toys for children 3.
  • Disney Junior Doc McStuffins Figurine Playset
    The figurines can be broken off their bases, creating small parts that fit into the choke test cylinder. The toy should have a CPSC small parts warning label, as required for toys containing small parts and intended for children ages 3 to 5.
  • Sydney Lee and "Stars In Your Eyes"
    The yo-yo included with the doll fits into the choke test cylinder. It should have a CPSC small parts warning label, as required for toys with small?parts and intended for children ages 3 to 5.
  • Rhinestone Rosette Headband
    Beads can fall off the headband, creating small parts that fit into the choke test cylinder. The toy should have a small parts warning label, as required for toys containing small parts and intended for children ages 3 to 5.
  • Wind Up Fun (fish)
    The tail can break off, and it fits into the choke test cylinder. The toy should not be labeled safe for children under 3.
  • Disney Figurine (Winnie the Pooh Piglet)
    The toy nearly fits into the choke test cylinder. Only its toes stick out.
  • Mega Value Pack 16 Latex Punch Balloons
    Balloons are dangerous for children under 8, but this package is labeled for 3-plus.

Magnetic Toys (Ingestion Hazard) 

  • Bucky Balls
    This toy is subject to a recall by the Consumer Protection Safety Council. It is illegal to sell it in the U.S.
  • The Mini Set
    Comparable toys have been subject to a recall by the CPSC. Zen Magnets is fighting the CPSC's efforts to recall its products.
  • Sonic Sound Sizzlers Toy Magnet
    The toy contains two high-powered magnets that are near-small parts. If the toy were a small part, it would be banned for children under 14.

BATTERY HAZARDS (CHOKING AND INGESTION)

  • Cherubic Cetacean
    Children can remove the batteries, which are near- small parts. The toy has been recalled for this reason in Australia. In addition, under mild abuse it broke into small parts that fit into the choke tube, and it does not have the CPSC warning label.

What to Look For

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) closely monitors and regulates toys. Any toys made in, or imported into, the United States after 1995 must comply with CPSC standards. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when shopping for toys:

  • Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant.
  • Stuffed toys should be washable.
  • Painted toys should be covered with lead-free paint.
  • Art materials should say nontoxic.
  • Crayons and paints should say ASTM D-4236 on the package, which means that they've been evaluated by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
  • Steer clear of older toys, even hand-me-downs from friends and family. Those toys might have sentimental value and are certainly cost-effective, but they may not meet current safety standards and may be so worn from play that they can break and become hazardous.
  • And make sure a toy isn't too loud for your child. The noise of some electronic toys can be as loud as a car horn - even louder if a child holds it directly to the ears - and can contribute to hearing damage.
  • Remember, if you have any doubt about a toy's safety, err on the side of caution and do not allow your child to play with it.

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