New government data & U.S. PIRG investigation reveal unsafe toys impact on kids

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Emma Horst-Martz

Former Advocate, PennPIRG

Trouble in toyland report provides tips on keeping kids safe

PennPIRG Education Fund

 Toys sent an estimated 226,000 kids to the emergency room in 2018, according to newly released data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, released on the same day, helps identify 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 still remain on store shelves. With that in mind, parents should remain vigilant to protect kids from these hazards,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Education Fund Campaign Associate. “Meanwhile, manufacturers and regulators must do more to ensure all toys are safe before they end up in a child’s hands.”

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 lying 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.

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

“U.S. PIRG’s report on potentially dangerous consumer products is welcomed by the CPSC. We share a common goal of keeping American families safe this holiday season and all year long,” said U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Acting Chairman Robert Adler. “ CPSC takes this report seriously and will review and act as appropriate.”

“With the holiday shopping season underway, I urge toy shoppers across Pennsylvania to look beyond the colorful packaging and carefully consider whether the toy inside is safe and age appropriate,” PA Auditor General DePasquale said. “Federal authorities reported more than 251,000 toy-related injuries were treated by hospitals in 2017.”

“We want children to have fun and grow through play, but parents and caregivers should always supervise, especially for younger children. Knowing the risks and taking precautions is so important to protect children’s futures,” said Amy Bollinger, RN and Penn State Children’s Hospital Pediatric Trauma and Injury Prevention Program Manager.

“Toys are safer than ever before thanks to years of hard work by consumer, public health, and parent advocacy organizations; 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 happily playing at home,” advised U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber.