Last week, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) released its 27th annual report, “Trouble in Toyland” in conjunction with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Here are some highlights to help you be a popular Santa’s helper while protecting the small fry from danger.
Some hazards never change: size (so small they present a risk for choking); toxins (lead, cadmium, phthalates); magnets (we recently blogged about their gastrointestinal danger.) Others are new: high volume of sound.
Among the more widely available toys deemed dangerous in “Trouble in Toyland” are plastic play food sold at Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us (choking hazard) and Dora the Explorer guitar (hearing risk) sold at Target. For the full list, see the report.
In general, beware of toys posing these common hazards:
1. Choking. It’s the most common cause of toy-related deaths. According to the CPSC, from 2005-2009 at least 41 children choked to death on balloons, toys or toy parts.
- Don’t buy small toys or toys with small parts for children younger than 3. If it can pass through a toilet paper tube, a toy or part is too small for toddlers and babies and any child who still puts things in his or her mouth.
- Read and heed warning labels: Toys with small parts intended for children ages 3 to 6 are required to include an explicit choking hazard warning.
- Never give young children small balls or balloons: They can block a child's airway. Balls for children younger than 6 must be larger than 1.75 inches in diameter. Never give latex balls to children younger than 8.
2. Lead and Other Toxic Chemicals. Some toys and children’s cosmetics may contain lead or other toxic chemicals, including phthalates. Most such chemicals are being phased out of toys, but older toys may still contain them.
Avoid toys made of PVC plastic, which can contain toxic phthalates; they pose developmental hazards. Choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead. High levels of lead paint have been found on toys, as well as in vinyl lunch boxes, bibs and in children's costume jewelry. All lead should be removed from a child's environment, especially lead jewelry and toys that can be swallowed. Use a home lead tester available at hardware stores to see if anything in your home presents this danger.
Read the labels of play cosmetics and avoid products with xylene, toluene or dibutyl phthalate.
3. Magnets. New, powerful small magnets used in most magnetic building toys, darts, magnetic jewelry and other items can fall out and look like shiny candy. If a child swallows more than one, they can cause life-threatening complications. If a child swallows even one magnet, seek immediate medical attention.
4. Watch or "Button" Batteries. Keep watch or "button" batteries away from children. If swallowed, the battery acid can cause fatal internal injuries.
5. Noise. Children's ears are sensitive. If a toy seems too loud to you, it’s probably too loud for a child. Remove the batteries from loud toys or cover the speakers with tape.
6. Strangulation. They include mobiles, cords and drawstrings. Keep them out of the reach of children in cribs and remove them before the baby is five months old or can push himself or herself up.
Remove knobs and beads from cords longer than one foot to prevent the cords from tangling into a dangerous loop. Don’t buy clothing with drawstrings on the hood—they can get caught on fixed objects like playground equipment and pose a strangulation hazard.
Tips for keeping kids safer:
- Accessorize. Children should wear protective gear when riding bicycles, scooters, skateboards and inline skates. If your gift list includes them, also give a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards.
- Stay informed of recalls. The CPSC recalls numerous toys and children's products each year. Find out what’s been recalled here. You can also sign up to receive email alerts of new recalls.
- Visit this interactive website with tips for safe toy shopping. It also has recall information and is accessible via smartphone.
To report a dangerous toy, email the CPSC, file your comments on its website or call (800) 638-2772.