35th annual Trouble in Toyland report uncovers mislabeled and dangerous toys

Media Contacts
Abe Scarr

State Director, Illinois PIRG; Energy and Utilities Program Director, PIRG

As holidays near, spotlight on nine toy hazards to avoid during gift-giving, sheltering-in-place

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland report has helped identify dangerous toys for 35 years. But 2020 is unique, and as Americans have worked, learned and played from home to protect themselves from COVID-19, children could be more susceptible to certain toy-related hazards. 

“This has been an incredibly difficult year, and parents and caregivers are overwhelmed. They might do a quick search online for a toy to entertain their kids and trust that manufacturers and online vendors are guaranteeing their safety. This isn’t always the case, so parents need to be on guard,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director.

Because of the pandemic, many parents are working from home while trying to keep kids of multiple ages busy with safe activities they can perform without supervision. This can be a daunting task. Our researchers found that many toys have hidden dangers or missing warning labels and playthings such as magnets, balloons and smaller toys can be deadly if they fall into younger children’s hands.  

Here are some of the main categories from this year’s findings:


  • Choking Hazards: From small parts included in toy sets, to game pieces, many toys are not safe for children 2 years old or younger. This year’s report uncovered multiple examples of choking hazards that either lack a proper warning online or don’t have the mandatory warning label on the packaging. 

  • Loud Noises: Incredibly noisy toys played on repeat aren’t just annoying. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sounds with decibel levels of more than 80 can cause potential hearing damage in children, and noises between 100 and 120 decibels can cause damage if they last more than one minute. Our researchers found a toy fire truck for sale on Amazon noisy enough to potentially damage a kid’s hearing. 

  • High-Powered Magnets: Magnets of all types have posed risks to children for years. Some are part of toy building sets aimed at children as young as 3 years old, although some children that age don’t know not to eat or inhale them. And some magnets aren’t intended for kids; they’re more like fidget toys for adults, who can use “recreational” magnets to create shapes or figures. 

  • Recalled Toys: U.S. PIRG Education Fund researchers found three separate recalled toys for sale on eBay, and in two cases, found full pages selling the recalled products. 


“A holiday should not end with a trip to the emergency room because of the gifts we buy our kids and grandkids,” said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). “I applaud PIRG for its continued efforts to inform Americans and Illinoisans of potential dangers in products intended for children. I will continue working alongside them and push for vital consumer protection regulations.”


“This past year, the House passed the Consumer Product Safety Inspection Enhancement Act, which would improve efforts to stop unsafe products from getting into the U.S. in the first place. We need strong enforcement to keep our kids safe. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other gift-givers should not have to worry about finding unsafe or recalled products on store shelves or online. Illinois PIRG’s annual toy safety report has helped draw attention to new dangers and hold stores and online retailers accountable for continuing to sell recalled products,” said Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

“Throughout 2020, we have taken precautions to protect the health and wellness of our families and neighbors, and I am urging holiday shoppers to exercise the same vigilance to ensure they are not buying potentially dangerous products for the children on their lists,” Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said. “I encourage parents, grandparents, guardians and anyone who is purchasing a gift for a child to review the Safe Shopping Guide before starting their holiday shopping.”


“We thank Illinois PIRG for bringing attention to recalled toys that are still available for sale online,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger. “Parents and gift-givers should check the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall website to make sure that the children’s products they’re buying have not been recalled, and regulators should take appropriate action against those who are selling recalled products.”

“The pandemic has led to more unsupervised play for children of all ages,” said Scarr. “Because of this, prevention is the best medicine! To protect your children, do your homework and make sure dangerous products don’t get into your house in the first place.