Survey Finds Dangerous and Toxic Toys on Store Shelves

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Evi Lowman

Shopping Tips Can Help Parents Shop Safe

Maryland PIRG Foundation

Baltimore, MD Dec 2nd – Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Maryland Public Interest Research Group’s 29th 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, chromium and phthalates, all of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing, and powerful 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 Matthew Wellington, Maryland PIRG Campaign Organizer.

For 29 years, the Maryland PIRG 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.

“The phrase ‘buyer beware’ has never been so important to remember as it is around the holidays. Parents and other consumers need to exercise sound judgment when shopping for children’s gifts, and everyone needs to demand that manufacturers bring to stores’ shelves only those toys that are tested, safe and toxin-free. Our families and our environment deserve nothing less,” said Senator Cardin. “I applaud the diligence of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and would like to underscore the importance of the commission’s work to keep us safe from tragedy and the $1 trillion in unnecessary annual expenses that follow consumer products incidents.”

“Just walking into a toy store during the holiday season can be overwhelming for parents because there are so many choices. I encourage parents to look for toys and games that promote activity and creativity, while maintaining safety.  Check all toys for possible dangers, and make sure that they are age appropriate. Potential risks can include toys that have magnets, are made with toxic chemicals, contain tiny parts that can be swallowed and those that make loud noises,” said Kenneth Schoendorf, a pediatrician at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. We found toys containing phthalates well over legal limits, as well as toys with lead or chromium content above limits. For example, we found a set of toy sheriff’s badges that exceeded the allowable lead standard of 90ppm for paint or coatings.
  • Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of three, we found toys available in stores that still pose choking hazards. For example, we found a set of soft foam blocks labeled for kids 2 and up that contained a small part hazard.
  • We also found toys that are potentially harmful to children’s ears and hearing. For example, we found the Leap Frog Chat and Count Smart Phone is loud.
  • We continued to find small, powerful magnets that pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed. For example, we found sizzler magnets that could pose injuries if swallowed.

Over the past six years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market. Rules put in place by the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s September ban on small, powerful toy magnet sets is also an important step forward. However, not all toys comply with the law, and holes in the toy safety net remain.

“Parents should avoid shopping at stores that have not adopted a publicly available corporate policy on toxics in their products, such as Walgreens,” concluded Wellington. “Without such a policy, Walgreens does not play an active role in ensuring the safety of the products it sells. Instead, Walgreens leaves it up to manufacturers and suppliers to ensure the safety of products.” 

To download our full Trouble in Toyland report, click here. Parents can find our list of unsafe toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at  

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Maryland PIRG, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan organization that , takes on powerful interests on behalf of its members, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being.