Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates and parents and the leadership of Congress, state legislatures and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Nevertheless, as parents venture into crowded malls this holiday season, they should remain vigilant about often hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves.
The 2006 Trouble in Toyland report is the 21st annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards. This year, we focused on four categories of toys: toys that may pose choking hazards, magnetic toys, toys that are excessively loud, and toys that contain potentially toxic chemicals.
We visited numerous toy stores and other retailers to find potentially dangerous toys and identify trends in toy safety. Key findings include:
Choking on small parts, small balls and balloons remains a leading cause of toyrelated deaths and injuries. Between 1990 and 2004, at least 157 children died after choking or asphyxiating on a toy or toy part; seven children died in 2004 alone. The law bans small parts in toys for children under three and requires a warning label on toys with small parts for children between the ages of three and six.
Although most toys on store shelves are safe, we still found some toys that may pose choking hazards. Specifically:
• We found toys for children under three with small parts and toys with small parts for children under six without the required choke hazard warning label. Balloons, which cause the most choking deaths, are still marketed inappropriately for young children.
• Some toys may pose a choking or suffocation hazard even if they meet the letter of the law. This year, two small children suffocated when oversized, plastic toy nails sold with a play tool bench became forcefully lodged in their throats.
We recommend making the test for small parts more protective of children under three. CPSC also should consider, at minimum, special labeling for toys shaped like corks or the toy nails, which pose special suffocation risks because of their shape.
Over the last year, one child died and several others were gravely injured after swallowing tiny but powerful magnets now commonly used in magnetic building toys and magnetic jewelry. If a child swallows more than one of these magnets, the magnets can attract to each other and cause intestinal perforation or blockage. CPSC should adopt and enforce strong mandatory guidelines for labeling magnetic toys to ensure parents know to seek immediate medical attention if a child swallows magnets.
Almost 15 percent of children ages 6 to 17 show signs of hearing loss. In November 2003, the American Society for Testing and Materials adopted a voluntary acoustics standard for toys, setting the loudness threshold for most toys at 90 decibels. We found that several toys currently on store shelves may not meet the standards for appropriately loud toys; in fact, several toys we tested exceed 100 decibels when measured at close range.
CPSC should enforce the acoustics standards for loud toys and consider strengthening them to be more protective of children’s hearing.
TOXIC CHEMICALS IN TOYS
Some toys can pose hidden hazards, exposing children to dangerous chemicals that are linked to serious health problems. We found:
• Some children’s jewelry may contain high levels of lead, which can cause developmental delays or even death in children exposed to this heavy metal. We found four examples of jewelry on store shelves containing lead at levels ranging from 1.8% to 34% of the item’s weight. CPSC has recalled more than 150 million pieces of leadladen children’s jewelry since 2004, but CPSC needs to do more to keep this jewelry off the shelves in the first place by enacting and enforcing requirements for jewelry manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers to test their products for lead.
• Manufacturers are selling play cosmetic sets that include nail polish containing toxic chemicals, such as toluene and xylene. Since children often put their hands in their mouths, nail polish offers a direct route of exposure. CPSC should team up with the Food and Drug Administration to require manufacturers to stop using toxic chemicals in cosmetics marketed for children.
• Last year, we commissioned laboratory tests of eight soft plastic toys labeled as not containing phthalates, a class of chemicals linked to reproductive defects and other health problems. We found that six of the eight “phthalate-free” products actually contained phthalates. This year, we again tested 10 toys labeled as “phthalate-free.” Of the 10 toys tested, two contained detectable levels of phthalates. Although this may be better news for consumers, nothing in the law has changed to hold toymakers accountable to the “phthalate-free” label.
CPSC should ban phthalates in toys and other products intended for children under five and work with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that toys labeled “phthalate-free” do not contain phthalates.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CONSUMERS
Be vigilant this holiday season, and remember:
• The CPSC does not test all toys, and not all toys on store shelves meet CPSC standards.
• Our report includes only a sample of potentially hazardous toys. Examine toys carefully for potential dangers before you make a purchase.
• Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC.