What could be more innocent and wholesome than toys . . . dolls with golden curls and sky blue eyes, teddy bears that talk when you pull a string, china tea cups straight out of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, miniature beams and arches that build Eiffel Towers.
Americans see the world of toys as a magical wonderland from which to choose gifts both fanciful and practical for the children they love. What we don’t see – especially when Santa is making his list – are the dangers posed by sharp edges, small parts, cords and strings, collapsible frames, and toxic paints. In 2009, 186,000 children under 15 wound up in hospital emergency rooms because of toy-related injuries.
Here are just some of the problems that have prompted toy recalls by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government watchdog agency that protects our children from toys that can pinch, poke, puncture, choke, burn, poison or suffocate:
- Parts that pull loose from activity centers
- Decorative paint that contains lead
- Needles in the stuffing of action figures
- Stuffed animal eyes that are easily pulled off
- Lead-coated wires in craft kits
- Electrical toys that produce shocks
- Hinged lids that collapse on toy chests
- Wheels that detach from skates
- Oversized nails in toy workshops
- Straps that fall off inflatable baby floats
In just one example, one of the largest toy recalls in history, toymaker Fisher-Price recalled 10 million of its children’s products from the United States and Canadian markets in September 2010. According to the CPSC, at least 10 injuries – six of them requiring medical attention – were reported associated with Fisher-Price Trikes and Tough Trikes toddler tricycles. The problem: a plastic ignition key sticking out near the seat. Children sitting or falling on the key were in danger of incurring injuries such as genital bleeding.
Click here to check the CPSC toy recall list and find valuable information about toy safety. Also visit the agency’s interactive Kidd Safety pages for child-friendly hints and safety activities.
Protecting your children from potentially dangerous toys is, in part, a matter of good judgment and common sense. Here are some guidelines to help you as you shop. Remember three general rules: (1) The simpler, the safer; (2) Babies will put anything in their mouths; and (3) Curious children will take anything apart.
Make sure that the toys you are considering are age-appropriate. For children under three, stay away from toys with tiny parts, small balls or marbles, stuffed animals with removable eyes and noses, squeeze toys with squeakers, toys with sharp edges, and rattles that could break or choke.
Look for quality design and sturdy construction, especially in playground equipment, tables and chairs, stools, and anything else that can be climbed.
Read the warning labels and check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to make sure a toy you are considering has not been recalled.
Take care that instructions, warranties, and warning labels are in the packaging, and that directions for assembly are clear.
Beware of toys with long cords and strings that could strangle a child, such as crib gyms and play centers with dangling objects.
If you are eyeing a musical toy or one that makes noises, make sure it’s not too loud. Often, loud noises startle young children and can even damage their hearing . . . as well as annoy their parents!
Make sure that art and craft materials do not contain toxic chemicals. Non-toxic art materials are labeled “ASTM D-4236” but may also have cautionary information.
Electric toys must meet stringent standards related to temperature and construction, and warning labels must be displayed prominently.
If you must buy toy guns, remember that cap guns are especially dangerous. Not only could caps ignite, but their noise levels can damage a child’s hearing.
After a 2007 recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products manufactured in China by big-name American toy companies, Congress approved a tough toy safety act that is enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Shockingly, a number of toy manufacturers are lobbying for exemptions . . . clearly placing their profit ahead of child safety.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 sets mandatory toy safety standards, including tougher regulation of children’s products containing lead paint; strict standards and consumer regulations for durable nursery products; labeling requirements for advertising toys and games; and tracking labels for children’s products.
In September 2010, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported a deluge of appeals from toy manufacturers to have their products excluded from the new safety rules. According to a New York Times report, the Halloween Industry Association claims that typical Halloween costumes should be exempt because they are often worn by teenagers and adults. Model train makers, as well, say their target customers are middle-aged men, not children. The sporting goods industry is up in arms over applying the toy safety rules to items such as baseball bats, hockey sticks and footballs that could be used by sports enthusiasts of all ages.
Shortly before its mid-March 2011 debut, manufacturers of toys and other children’s products were making a last-ditch effort to halt a new public database that would make it easier for consumers to search the CPSC’s injury reports. Another thorn in their side: a new requirement for third-party testing of lead in children’s products.
Still another controversial element of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 is that it outlaws reselling of toys that have been recalled. This means that overstock outlets, resale shops, flea markets, and even individuals trying to make some cash from used toys are subject to hefty fines if they are selling recalled products.
So far, the CPSC is standing firm on its responsibility to protect our children. CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum, a former State Superintendent of Education in South Carolina, has affirmed that she will continue to hold all toy manufacturers and toy sellers, including foreign importers, to the new toy safety standards. That’s good news for the American public!
A number of non-profit organizations, as well, are dedicated to protecting consumers from dangerous toys and children’s products. Many of them have websites with information that could save a child’s life. Here are some sites you might want to visit.