The 2012 Trouble in Toyland report is the 27th annual U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety.
Common Hazards in Toys
We visited numerous national toy stores, malls and dollar stores in September, October, and November 2012 to identify potentially dangerous toys. Our researchers examined the CPSC notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety. Our investigation is focused on toys that posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation or noise hazard.
Our Key Findings Include:
Lead Continues to be a Hazard in Toys
Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system. Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children and can cause permanent mental and developmental impairments; it has no business being in children’s products.
The current federal legal lead standard is 100 parts per million (ppm), though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a lead limit of 40 ppm. We found one toy that violates the CPSC’s lead standard of 100 ppm.
Phthalates in Toys
Numerous studies have documented the potential health effects of exposure to phthalates in the womb or in child development. U.S. EPA studies show the cumulative impact of different phthalates leads to an exponential increase in harm including premature delivery and reproductive defects.
The CPSIA permanently banned three phthalates from use in toys, and set temporary limits on three others, while tests continue. No toy or child care article can contain more than 1000 ppm of each of the six phthalates. Washington State has a stronger disclosure law than the federal standard, requiring the disclosure of any detectable level of phthalates.
Magnets in Toys
This year we are highlighting the continued dangers that magnet toys, such as the Buckyball magnets that are the subject of a CPSC court action, pose to children. These magnet toys are made with neodymium iron boron magnets. The magnets are extremely strong and can severely pinch fingers; worse, they can cause severe internal damage if swallowed. CPSC staff have estimated that between 2009 and 2011 there were 1,700 emergency room cases nationwide involving the ingestion of high powered magnets. More than 70% of these cases involved children between the ages of 4 and 12.
We found ellipsoid toy magnets that nearly fit in the small parts cylinder, and are classified as a novelty “finger-fidget” toy. These magnets are smooth and shiny and sold in pairs; striking them together causes them to vibrate and produce a singing sound, making them appealing to children. CPSC has reported gastroenterological injuries associated with these magnets.[iii] If the magnet had fit in the small parts test cylinder, it would be banned for sale to children under 14. These, instead, were labeled “4 and up.”
Choking - on small toy parts, on small balls, on marbles and on balloons - continues to be the major cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. Between 1990 and 2011, over 200 children died from choking incidents.
This year we found several toys that contained small parts or “near small part” toys. The toys containing small parts contained improper labels and might be mistakenly purchased for children under 3. The toys containing near small parts support our long term principle that the small parts test should be made more protective by making the test cylinder larger.
We found small cars that included small parts (rubber traction bands on wheels) . Although the toy includes a statutory choke hazard warning and is labeled 4+, the tiny label may violate CPSC hazard warning rules.
We also found several dollar store toys, such as a small bowling ball and pin toy set with missing, obscured or tiny choke hazard warning labels. We also found some toy foods including both near small parts and other rounded ball-like foods that would fail the small ball test although they are technically subject to the less-stringent small parts test. Toy foods poses a special hazard, because they look to small children like something that should be eaten. Round toy food should be tested as if it is a ball, but the CPSC interprets the law differently.
Research has shown that a third of Americans with hearing loss can attribute it in part to noise.[iv] The third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that one in five U.S. children will have some degree of hearing loss by the time they reach age 12. This may be in part due to many children using toys and other children’s products such as music players that emit loud sounds.[v] The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advises that prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels will cause gradual hearing loss in any age range.[vi]
We found two toys, a car driving wheel on a console and a toy guitar on store shelves that exceeded the recommended limit for continuous exposure of 85 decibels. We also found one close-to-the-ear toy, a cell phone, that exceeded the 65 decibel limit when measured with a digital sound level meter.