As attention turns to the toy aisles this time of year, there is an understandable concern for toy safety – especially when news reports focus on dangerous and toxic toy lists. So the question remains, are toys safe?
1. Toys are Safer than they were prior to 2008. In reaction to the discovery of lead in a frighteningly large number of toys, the federal government passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. All phase-in aspects of the law have been enacted. Toys are now regulated for lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, mercury and other toxic metals. It also sets limits on a number of phthalates – they make toys softer, but have also been linked to serious health issues including reproductive defects.
2. Toys are not checked before they hit the shelves in toy stores. Nothing in the new law provides for government inspection prior to a toy being introduced into the market. The toy industry remains self-regulatory. While most toy makers and retailers take toy testing seriously, it means that dangerous and toxic toys can still end up in your playroom.
3. If it smells like a duck, it’s probably a duck. The same is true with toys. If you open a toy and it smells bad, or it’s really loud, or it has small parts trust your instincts. Don’t assume it must be okay. You are your child’s personal consumer advocate.
4. A Toilet Paper Roll is Your First Line of Defense. Most families don’t have a “choke tube” that checks for small parts under the current regulations. You can use a toilet paper tube – it’s slightly larger, but it’s a good benchmark for toys that should not be given to kids under 3 or kids that still mouth their toys. One of the trends that we are most concerned with (and is also noted in the Ohio PIRG Report) are small toy parts that just stick out of the choke tube so they’re legal but oh so close. [There is no developmental advantage to such small parts for young children and, in our opinion, pose an unnecessary chance for kids to either choke or gag.]
5. Leave the Noisy Toys at Grandma’s. Well this is one solution. Take the batteries out is another. Many toys come with volume controls, that’s a plus. Yet there remain toys each year that are just too loud and exceed the legal limit. Really alarming is that many of them are intended for very young children to put near their ears. How can you check? The good news, is that there are free APPs to measure sound levels. Here’s what you should look for. (This would actually make for a fun science experiment for older children). Toys that are intended to be hand-held as well as crib toys, table toys and floor toys should not produce continuous sounds that are greater than 85 dB from 25 centimeters (or appr. 10 inches away). Toys, like toy phones, intended to be placed near your child’s ear – should not be more than 65 dB from 2.5 centimeters (appr. 1 inch). If you’re wondering about toys that have blasts of sound the law sets the limit to 125 dB from 25 centimeters.
One more…and it’s a big one. Balloons, balloons, balloons…yes, they’re fun…but latex balloons pose a serious danger for children under the age of 8. Yes, we all grew up with them, but did you know that according to the CPSC, 47% of child fatalities from toys in 2010 were from balloons and small balls? The problem is that a big happy balloon one moment can pop and the pieces can seal your child’s airway closed.
We recommend taking a look at the full Trouble in Toyland report from Ohio PIRG. We have not independently tested the toys in their report, but they underscore that there is more to be done to assure that toys are safer.