Last week the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) published its 26th annual survey of toy safety where they profiled some hazards they found in toys being sold this holiday season.  I think you can tell pretty quickly from the survey’s title—Trouble in Toyland—what PIRG’s opinion of the toy industry is.

This is sad because in 2007 there were a series of high profile toy recalls. More than 20 million toys were recalled by major manufacturers as Mattel (which owns Fisher Price) due to the presence of lead-based paint that exceeded the federal limit. In some cases the lead content was found to be 180 times the federal limit! In response, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) of 2008, which established lower limits of lead allowed in children’s products and also banned the use of three phthalates (chemical substances shown in many studies to cause birth defects and affect hormone levels in young children and the unborn) in such products. The law also required manufacturers to submit to mandatory third-party testing for such substances.


PIRG visited many national toy stores to look for several commonly encountered hazards in toys. They concluded the following worrisome results.

Lead Paint Is Still a Hazard

PIRG found 2 toys that had lead paint levels exceeding the federally mandated 300 ppm (parts per million) standard set by the CPSIA, and one toy that exceeded the prospective 100 ppm standard. PIRG also found 4 other toys that exceeded the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended limit of 40ppm.

Phthalates Were Still Found In Several Toys

The CPSIA banned toys containing three phthalates and set temporary limits on three others. It also mandated that no children’s product can contain more than 1000 ppm of each of the six phthalates. However, PIRG found two toys that contained 42,000 ppm and 77,000 ppm of phthalates.

Choking Hazards Still Exist

PIRG says that from 1990 to 2010, 200 children died from choking incidents. PIRG’s investigators found several toys that violated the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s small parts for toys intended for children less than 3 years old. They also found several other “near small part” toys that don’t violate regulations but are dangerously small, as well as toys marketed towards older children that did not have required choking hazard warnings.

Some Toys Can Damage Hearing

PIRG cites data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that shows one in five U.S. children having some degree of hearing loss by age 12. This may be partly because of toys and music players. PIRG found 1 toy that exceeded the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders’ recommended continuous exposure limit of 85-decibels, and 2 close-to-the-ear toys that exceeded the 65-decibel limit.

There findings remind us that we should always do our research before buying toys, even if they say on the package that they are safe for young children. Stay tuned for a later post where I’ll profile the toys PIRG flagged in this year’s toy safety survey.

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