Think all toys on store shelves are safe? Unfortunately, it's not the case. You can find super magnets that make fun scrunching sounds, but are small enough for a young child to swallow and choke on; preschool model cell phones that create sounds loud enough to damage young ears; and a chrome plated Slinky Jr. that could poison a child sucking on it.

This list represents a small sampling of potentially dangerous or toxic toys in U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund's national report Trouble in Toyland 2015, presented at a press conference at Nemours Pediatrics/Thomas Jefferson University on Tuesday. PennPIRG, the local branch of the national public safety group, publishes the toy report every year. Brendan Boyle, a congressman from Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, and myself were featured speakers at the press conference.

Stephanie Monahon, the PennPIRG Director, spoke about concerns such as the confusing age limits on the toy packaging. She pointed out one toy had "Over 3" at the bottom and "Over 8 at the top". Here is a summary of the report's main findings:

  • Exposure to phthalates at crucial stages of development may harm development of the male reproductive system, and is linked to early puberty, according to U.S. PIRG. A jump rope was found with phthalates at levels greater than the legal limit.
  • Toys with small parts were not labeled with warnings for children under 3. These toys could block a young child's airway. Several toys were found that contained or could break into small parts, but did not have the correct U.S. statutory warning label, or any warning label at all. These included a fairy wand, toy car and plane, a Dory figurine, a mini vortex football, and a toy mermaid.
  • Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choking hazard for children 3 years and younger. U.S. PIRG found Magic Towels packaged as a small baseball and a small football at Dollar Tree, which did not have the appropriate small ball warning label. The report also highlighted other small, rounded toys, such as toy food, that present the same choking hazard as small balls, but are not labeled as a hazard.
  • 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. The report lists three balloon sets on store shelves marketed to children under eight, including a balloon animal kit from Party City.
  • When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, they can have fatal health consequences as their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, perforating intestinal walls. Report found ellipsoid magnets that are just larger than the small parts cylinder. While U.S. PIRG believes these magnets do not technically violate any standards, they included them because their near-small parts size is a concern.
  • Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children, because hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development. Five toys marketed to children under 3 years were estimated to be either at or slightly above the decibel standards recommended for close-to-the-ear toys. They included the Vtech Spin and Learn Color Flashlight, Vtech Fridge Phonics, and Fisher Price Click and Learn Remote.
  • Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to undermine IQ, attentiveness, and academic achievement. The report did not find any toys with high levels of lead. However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled toys due to lead limit violations this year.

Congressman Boyle said as a parent how important it was to get this information, especially since his 21-month-old daughter had one of the excessive noise toys at home. He praised PennPIRG for releasing this survey to the public.

I pointed out that not all things that children play with are toys and that consumer electronics we often give our small children to amuse themselves can have small parts and especially button batteries and these can be deadly if swallowed. I also said that I believed an informed consumer can buy more safely.

With these tips, PennRIRG advises us to have a safe holiday toy buying season by buying smartly. U.S. PIRG Education Fund's Toy Safety Tips are available at toysafetytips.org.

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