Tiny Terrors: This Holiday Season’s Troublesome Toys Include Choking Hazards, Lead

Don’t want your kids messing around with potentially dangerous phthalates, picking up traces of lead or swallowing tiny toy parts? You might want to check out the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual survey of toy safety. The someone ominously titled “Trouble in Toyland” report looks into the most common dangers plaguing the toy industry and also gives tips on how to avoid buying anything that could potentially harm a child.

Toys might seem innocent enough, but there are all kinds of yucky substances to avoid, along with injuries that can be incurred by cords, sharp edges or swallowable parts that could cause a child to choke, says U.S. PIRG in its report.

The report doesn’t provide a list of all the toys you should avoid, but it does touch on the most prevalent hazards it found during the study, as well as how best to identify a toy that could prove troublesome. The group visited national toy stores, malls and dollar stores over the last three months to check out what’s on the shelves.

Some of the important findings:

Lead is still a big problem substance in toys: Exposure to lead can harm almost every part of the human body, and is extra dangerous for young children’s brains. U.S. PIRG found one toy that violates the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s lead standard of 100 parts per million.

Phthalates are also something to keep an eye on, as various studies have said there are about six that can be harmful in a child’s development. According to the study, “No toy or child care article can contain more than 1000 ppm of each of the six phthalates.”

Magnets in toys: Buckyballs, anyone? Although those aren’t supposed to be for children, U.S. Pirg stresses once again how dangerous the strong magnets can be if swallowed. Other toys classified as novelty “finger-fidget” toys have smooth shiny magnets that make a pinging sound when smacked together. Those are also not good to swallow.

Choking hazards: Any kind of small part of a toy or things like marbles and balloons are still the cause of toy-related deaths and injuries in kids. The study found several toys this year that had small parts or “near small part” toys that contained improper labels, and could be accidentally purchased for kids under 3. Some of those include small cars with rubber traction bands on the wheels or a small bowling ball and pin set from a dollar store. Toy foods are also a tricky venture, as kids of course want to try to eat them if they really resemble food that well.

U.S. PIRG says while it doesn’t test toys and can’t provide a comprehensive list of those to avoid, it does recommend tips for checking out toys before you buy them (check www.toysafety.mobi for tips).

When in doubt, make sure to carefully inspect any toy you’re buying to make sure it’s appropriate for the intended recipient. Too many small parts? Magnets abounding? Better skip it for something safer.

*Pictured cat toy is not hazardous to pictured cat.

Trouble in Toyland 2012 [U.S. PIRG]