Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

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Jon Fox

Shopping Tips, Quiz Can Help Parents Shop Safe

CALPIRG Education Fund

San Francisco, CA – Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s (CALPIRG) 28th annual Trouble in Toyland report.  The survey of hazardous toys found that despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals including lead, cadmium, and phthalates, all of which can have serious adverse health impacts on the development of children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed. 

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Jon Fox, consumer advocate with CALPIRG.

For 28 years, the CALPIRG Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards.  CALPIRG also provides an online quiz to help educate parents and others about toy-related hazards.  

Key findings from the report include:

  • Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. We found several toys with high lead levels including a toddler toy with 29 times the legal limit of lead (2900 ppm), and play jewelry for children with 2 times the legal limit (200 ppm). We also found an infant play mat with high levels of the toxic metal antimony, and a child’s pencil case with high levels of phthalates and cadmium.
  • Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under three, we found toys available in stores that still pose choking hazards.
  • We also found toys that are potentially harmful to children’s ears and exceed the noise standards recommended by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
  • We discovered small powerful magnets that pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed.

“Some of the most common dangers we see in the pediatric emergency department at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital are from toys that are ingested and the aspiration of small parts,” said Christine Cho, MD, director of the division of pediatric emergency medicine at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. “In addition, we have seen incidents of neodymium magnet ingestion that lead to severe bowel complications.  In the pediatric emergency department it is rarer for us to see acute toxicity or damage due to noise, but we share in the high concern about how these toxic ingestions and auditory exposures impact our developing children.”

Over the past five years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market.  Improvements made in 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates.  However, not all toys comply with the law, and holes in the toy safety net remain.

“Our leaders and consumer watchdogs need to do more to protect America’s kids from the hazards of unsafe toys – no child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a dangerous toy,” said Jon Fox.  “Standards for toxic chemicals like lead and cadmium remain too weak, and enforcement needs to be beefed up.”

Download the full report online, HERE.

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CALPIRG, the California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being.