Toys with lead, toxic chemicals, choking hazards found on store shelves

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Alec Sprague

Director, New Member Strategies, The Public Interest Network

Shopping tips, online quiz can help parents shop safely

MoPIRG Foundation

ST. LOUIS (Nov. 26, 2013) –Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Missouri Public Interest Research Group’s 28th 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, cadmium and phthalates, all of which can have serious adverse health impacts on the development of children. The survey also found small toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that threaten children’s hearing and toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed. 

“Kids spend so much time playing and toys are such a vital part of a child’s development. It’s important that parents buy toys that are age-appropriate and, above all, safe for children,” says Cathy Hogan, director of Safe Kids St. Louis at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “In addition to reading warning labels, parents should do their best to stay well-informed on any recalls or consumer reviews that may draw attention to dangerous or mislabeled toys. Reports like this annual one from MoPIRG are definitely a huge help to us as injury prevention experts and for parents.”

 “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 Alec Sprague, Midwest federal advocate for the MoPIRG Foundation.

For 28 years, MoPIRG Foundation’s 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 group also provides a Facebook quiz to help educate parents and others about toy-related hazards.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. We found several toys with high lead levels including a toddler toy with 29 times the legal limit of lead (2900 ppm), and play jewelry for children with 2 times the legal limit (200 ppm). We also found an infant play mat with high levels of the toxic metal antimony, and a child’s pencil case with high levels of phthalates and cadmium.
  • Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under three, we found toys available in stores that still pose choking hazards.
  • We also found toys that are potentially harmful to children’s ears and exceed the noise standards recommended by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
  • We discovered small powerful magnets that pose a dangerous threat to children if swallowed.


Over the past five years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market.  Improvements made in 2008’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates.  However, not all toys comply with the law, which can lead to injuries in children.

“The hardest part is that these situations are nearly completely preventable,” says Hogan. “If proper labeling and manufacturing techniques were used for every toy, from the most expensive and ornate toys down to the most economical or simple toys, we would be in the clear. Unfortunately we’re not. It unfortunately falls to parents to check every toy, every time.”

 “Our leaders and consumer watchdogs need to do more to protect America’s kids from the hazards of unsafe toys – no child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a toy,” Sprague said.  “Standards for toxic chemicals like lead and cadmium remain too weak, and enforcement needs to be beefed up.”


 To download our Toy Tips or the full Trouble in Toyland report, click here.