'Trouble in Toyland': Survey finds dangerous toys on store shelves

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Stores nationwide are still offering dangerous and toxic toys this holiday season and, in some cases, ignoring explicit government safety regulations in the process, according to Vermont Public Interest Research Group Education Fund's 32nd annual Trouble in Toyland report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping for children's gifts. VPIRG also highlighted several toys and children's products that contain toxic chemicals and have been reported to the Vermont Department of Health.

The report exposes fidget spinners full of lead, inadequately labeled toys and balloons that pose a choking hazard, and data-collecting toys that may violate children's privacy and other consumer protection laws. We also provide a list of toys that have been recalled over the past year. VPIRG is also calling for a swift passing of comprehensive toxics legislation this January which would empower the Vermont Commissioner of Health to act to protect kids from toxic chemicals in their toys and products.

"We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that's the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for children's presents," said Adam Maxwell, Field Director for VPIRG.

For more than 30 years, the Trouble in Toyland report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children, and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. Over the years, our reports have led to more than 150 recalls and other enforcement actions.

We found two fidget spinners from Target which had dangerously high levels of lead, well over the federal legal limit of 100 parts per million (ppm) for lead in children's products. We tested for lead at a lab which is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass which we purchased at Target and is distributed by Bulls i Toy, L.L.C. The center circle tested for 33,000 ppm of lead, which is more than 300 times the legal limit for lead in children's products.

Despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of three, we found several toys that contain small parts, but do not have any warning label at all. These included a peg game, golf, and football travel games that we found at Dollar Tree.

Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children's throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children's product. We found five balloon sets on store shelves (from Dollar Tree — H2O Blasters, Water Balloons and Disney Princess Punchball Balloons; Party City — Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs and Mega Value Pack 14 Latex Punch Balloons; and Dollar City Plus — Party Balloons) that are either marketed to children under eight or have misleading warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages three and eight.

As toymakers produce more and more products that are part of the "Internet of Things," data collection and the sharing of consumer information become greater concerns. For example, we list a doll, "My Friend Cayla," which we found at Wal-Mart and Kohl's, which has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning to consumers to "consider cybersecurity prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes."

"Our leaders and consumer watchdogs need to do more to protect our youngest consumers from the hazards of unsafe toys. No child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a dangerous toy," said Maxwell. "The CPSC, manufacturers, and retailers should classify all fidget spinners as children's products and hold them to federal lead limits. It's simple common sense. And to prevent children from being exposed to lead-laden toys in the future, the CPSC needs to revise its loose and arbitrary regulations for determining the age range of a product."

View the full Trouble in Toyland report here at www.toysafetytips.org.

Johanna de Graffenreid is the Environmental Advocate Vermont Public Interest Research Group. She can be contacted at johanna@vpirg.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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