32nd Annual “Trouble in Toyland” Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

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Emily Rusch

Vice President and Senior Director of State Offices, The Public Interest Network

Expert Tips Can Help Parents Shop Safely

CALPIRG Education Fund

Los Angeles – Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children’s gifts.

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for children’s presents,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director with CALPIRG Education Fund.

For more than 30 years, CALPIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children, and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. Over the years, our reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other enforcement actions.

Key findings from the report include:

Data-Collecting Toys: As toymakers produce more and more products that are part of the “Internet of Things,” data collection and the sharing of consumer information become greater concerns. For example, we list a doll, “My Friend Cayla,” which we found at Wal-Mart and Kohl’s, which has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Small Parts: Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of three, we found several toys that contain small parts, but do not have any warning label at all. These included a peg game, golf, and football travel games that we found at Dollar Tree. 

Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. We found five balloon sets on store shelves from Dollar Tree that are either marketed to children under eight or have misleading warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages three and eight. 

Fidget Spinners containing Lead: We found two fidget spinners from Target which had dangerously high levels of lead, well over the federal legal limit of 100 parts per million (ppm) for lead in children’s products. On November 10th, Target announced that it will be removing the two fidget spinner models from its store shelves. Target had initially balked at our request to do so, citing a CPSC rule stating that general use products directed at adults don’t need to follow the same lead guidelines as children’s products directed at children 12 and under. The two models of fidget spinners we found were labeled for ages 14 and up. However, our staff found them in Target’s toy aisles and at the time of testing, the Target.com website included a misleading statement that the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass is recommended for children ages 6 and up. Now, the CPSC, Target, and Bulls i Toy need to ensure that these two fidget spinners are recalled, so that people who have already purchased the products won’t suffer any health consequences.

Hoverboards and other Recalled Toys: In the report we also provide a list of toys that have been recalled over the past year by the CPSC but could still be in homes, including several thousand self-balancing hoverboards with faulty battery packs. Earlier this year, two young girls and a firefighter tragically died from a house fire that was believed to be caused by a hoverboard that was charging and overheated. And just last month, another house fire was believed to be caused by a hoverboard.

“It’s important for us to look beyond what’s flashy and trendy when buying toys for children. We need to consider what’s safe,” says Alan Nager, MD, MHA, Director of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “The majority of toy-related deaths continue to be choking on small toy parts, such as marbles, balloons and small balls. That said, there are active precautions we can take to avoid preventable, toy-related trips to the Emergency Department.”

“No child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a dangerous toy,” said Rusch. “Especially if a product is marketed to kids, it shouldn’t contain toxic chemicals like lead. It’s simple common sense.” 

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

  • Subscribe to email recall updates from the CPSC and other U.S. government safety agencies available at www.recalls.gov;
  • Shop with CALPIRG Education Fund’s Toy Safety Tips, available at toysafetytips.org;
  • Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at SaferProducts.gov;
  • Review the recalled toys in this report and compare them to toys in your children’s toy boxes;
  • Remember, toys on our list are presented as examples of potentially-dangerous toys. Our list is not exhaustive and other hazards may exist;
  • 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;
  • Eliminate small magnet hazards from your home;
  • Be aware that toys connected to the Internet, as well as apps and websites, may be collecting information about children inappropriately. Learn more about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA);
  • Make sure that the hoverboards you own contain a UL2272-certification sticker from the product-testing group Underwriters Laboratories. However, even UL2272 compliance cannot guarantee that a hoverboard will not overheat or catch fire.

View our full Trouble in Toyland report here, or go to our website at www.calpirgedfund.org. Parents can find our list of unsafe  toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at toysafetytips.org.