Trouble in Toyland demonstrates how to protect kids from unsafe toys still for sale

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Trouble in Toyland demonstrates how to protect kids from unsafe toys still for sale

Report identifies most common dangers, calls for government action

BOSTON — Hundreds of thousands of children go to the emergency room every year because of toy-related injuries. To help ensure kids’ safety, U.S. PIRG Education Fund is releasing its 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report, which identifies dangerous products still for sale in 2019 and provides tips for parents and gift-givers.

“Toys have become safer over the last three decades, but dangerous and toxic toys are still on store shelves. With that in mind, parents need to be vigilant to keep their kids healthy and safe,” said Ashley Brown, Campaign Organizer with MASSPIRG. “Manufacturers and regulators must do more to ensure all toys are safe before they end up in a child’s hands.”

“I see children in the ER of all ages who swallow foreign bodies, but the age range of highest risk tends to be 0-to-3 years,” said Charles Murphy, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.  “Children of this age are learning about their environment, and this often includes exploring by placing objects in their mouths. But objects like magnets and button batteries are of particular concern, as they can do significant damage to the child’s esophagus and stomach if ingested.”

MASSPIRG’s Ashley Brown releases the report at the Floating Hospital, with Charles Murphy, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Mary Brown, MD, Pediatrician both with the Floating Hospital  for Children at Tufts Medical Center, and State Representative Jay Livingstone, Boston. Photo Credit: Athel Rogers

While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale, problems persist. U.S. PIRG Education Fund has identified three categories of toys that parents should be on the lookout for: detectable dangers, hidden toxics and hazards, and recalled toys.

Detectable dangers: Parents  can recognize numerous dangerous products just by looking at them. A few common threats include:

●        Choking hazards: Ubbi Connecting bath toys and hundreds of thousands of wooden vehicles sold by Target were recalled for choking risks. You can test if a toy is a choking hazard, using a toilet paper roll.

●        Balloons: Uninflated balloons are the primary cause of suffocation death in children. Uninflated balloons should be kept away from kids under eight and popped balloons should not be left around.

●        Loud noises: If an action figure, toy gun or other toy produces loud sounds, it can hurt a child’s hearing. If you hold the toy near your ear and it’s too loud for you, it’s too loud for your child. You can remove the batteries, put tape over the speaker, or decrease the volume.

●        Magnets: Sculpture kits or puzzles may include powerful magnets that can seriously injure children if ingested. Two doctors in Portland, Ore. removed 54 of these small magnets from four children in just over a month. Keep these away from children or out of the home altogether.

●        Toys marketed to adults: For example, fidget spinners may not meet the same safety standards as other toys because they are primarily designed with adults in mind, though they can still be marketed directly or indirectly to children, with designs like Captain America’s shield or a Transformer.


“Parents should pay close attention to age recommendations on toys with choking hazards for young children, but also inspect toys for any parts that could easily break off and become choking hazards,” said Mary E. Brown, MD, Pediatrician at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. “Parents of children with developmental delays, in which they may put things in their mouths beyond the typical age, should be particularly vigilant. Some ‘age appropriate’ toys with small parts or parts that may easily break off could be very dangerous for these children to play with.”

Hidden toxics: In the last year, toys and other children’s products containing lead, cadmium and boron were found for sale — posing a health risk parents cannot see.

●        Lead: Two kids’ musical instruments had illegal levels of lead, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation this summer. Parents should avoid purchasing toys manufactured before 2008 and be careful of imported, cheaper toys. Manufacturers should enhance testing to keep lead out of toys.

●        Boron: U.S. PIRG Education Fund testing revealed levels of borax (a compound that includes boron) exceeding European Union safety standards in all four play slimes we tested. Moderate to high doses of boron can cause nausea, vomiting and other long-term damages. The DIY 3-Pack of Rainbow Cosmic Slime Shakers contained 75 times the EU standard. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should establish safety standards for this toxic, including warning labels.

●        Cadmium: The Washington state Attorney General found cadmium above the legal limit of 40 parts per million in children’s jewelry. Cadmium can cause cancer and other health problems. Parents should avoid purchasing cheaper, metallic jewelry.


Recalled Toys: The last line of defense is our nation’s recall system. But, U.S. PIRG Education Fund researchers were able to purchase the recalled INNOCHEER’s Kids Musical Instrument Set and VTech’s Musical Elephant Shaker, which were both recalled more than a year ago. Parents should check to see if a toy has been recalled by visiting

“As a legislator, consumer, and father, I am grateful to MASSPIRG for continuing to lead the way raising awareness of the potential hidden dangers of seemingly safe toys.  While it is disheartening that this issue of unsafe toys persists, I always look forward to MASSPIRG arming parents with the information they need to make the best decisions for their families,” said Representative Jay Livingstone, of the 8th Suffolk District.

“Toys are safer than ever before thanks to years of hard work by consumer, public health, and parent advocacy organizations, along with elected officials and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. But with new threats appearing and old dangers still lurking, there is more work to do to prevent children from ending up sick or in the emergency room, instead of joyfully playing at home,” finished Brown.



MASSPIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.