Popular toys contain toxics and other hazards

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Abe Scarr

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

Illinois PIRG’S Trouble in Toyland finds dangerous toys on shelves during holiday shopping season

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

This holiday season, watch out for dangerous and toxic toys. Illinois PIRG Education Fund’s 33rd annual Trouble in Toyland report found toxic amounts of boron in slime products and a failure by Amazon to appropriately label choking hazards. Boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other health issues.

“No one should worry about whether or not the toy they’re buying is toxic or dangerous. But in 2018, we’re still finding hazards in some of the most popular toys. Toy manufacturers must do better to ensure their products are safe before they end up in children’s hands and mouths,” said Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG Education Fund Director.

For more than 30 years, Trouble in Toyland has issued toy safety guidelines and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards to small children. Key findings from this year’s report include:

  • Hazardous Slime: A number of popular ‘slimes’ had toxic levels of boron, likely in the form of borax, up to fifteen times the European Union’s limit. According to the EPA, ingesting boron can cause nausea, vomiting, long-term reproductive health issues and can even be fatal.

  • Missing Online Choking Warnings: In a survey of five search pages for balloons sold on Amazon, U.S. PIRG found no choking hazard labels on 87 percent of the latex balloons marketed to parents of children under 2, an apparent violation of the law. Among children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death.

  • Privacy-Invasive Smart Toys: The report also highlights smart toys with privacy concerns discovered through an investigation by the Mozilla Foundation. Every year, the potential for smart toys to expose private data becomes a more significant concern.

“As the holiday gift-giving season begins, parents want to make sure that the products that end up in children’s hands are safe.” Said Rep. Jan Schakowsky “Since the passage of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act ten years ago, we’ve made great strides in making our children’s toys safer. We have significantly reduced the presence of hazardous chemicals in toys and we’ve increased testing to stop dangerous products from ever reaching store shelves. But we’re not done yet. I’m determined to continue our work towards a safer future for American families.”

“As Attorney General, some of the most important people to protect are those who can’t protect themselves,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said. “That is why it’s been an honor to work with Illinois PIRG, Kids in Danger, Lurie Children’s Hospital and other strong advocates to warn parents and caregivers about dangerous children’s toys and products.”

“Thousands of innovative toys promise fun and education through connectivity, but this functions as a two-way street.” said State Senator and Attorney General-Elect Kwame Raoul. “’Smart’ toys can become surveillance devices, with parents given little information about who may be watching or listening as their children play. I was proud to sponsor the Keep Internet Devices Safe Act to increase transparency surrounding internet-enabled toys, and I will continue to pursue this issue as Attorney General.”

“We continue to see a steady stream of toddlers and young children who have swallowed or choked on small toys or toy parts coming into the emergency department. In more dangerous situations, children who swallow powerful magnets or button batteries need surgery for removal,” said Michelle Macy, MD, Lurie Children’s emergency room physician. “We also stay busy setting broken bones in older children and teens who fall from toys with wheels like rollerblades, skateboards, and motorized ride-on toys. Families can use the information from the Trouble in Toyland report to help make safer choices and stay out of the ER with their children this gift-giving season.”

“It’s worrisome that only a small percentage of recalled products are actually removed from homes,” said Nancy Cowles, Executive Director of Kids in Danger. “Manufacturers and the CPSC must do a better job of retrieving these dangerous products.”

“Regulators need to determine the appropriate health-based standards to protect children from boron in slime. In the meantime, we want parents to know the risks, so they can supervise their kids accordingly,” said Tano Toussaint, Consumer Watchdog Associate at U.S. PIRG.

While there are currently no limits on boron in children’s toys in the U.S., the advocacy organization called for placing warning labels on products and a full public hearing to determine safe levels of boron.


In addition to identifying dangerous toys already on store shelves, U.S. PIRG provides a guide on how parents, grandparents and other caretakers can ensure toys are safe and stay updated on recalled toys at www.ToySafetyTips.org.