It's been a long time since Dan Aykroyd's Mainway Toys was satirically exposed on Saturday Night Live for selling such hazardous playthings as "Bag o' Glass," "Teddy Chainsaw Bear" and "Johnny Switchblade." But some new toys still hold hidden risks -- and for parents, it's no laughing matter.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group's 26th annual Trouble in Toyland report found a number of hazardous toys on store shelves this season. The leading dangers continue to be those with pieces small children might choke on, and toys that violate new lead and phthalate limits. Also making the list are toys that are potentially harmful to children's hearing, with noise volumes that exceed the standards recommended by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
And unlike Irwin Mainway's fictional company, the offenders include brands you've probably heard of -- household names like Disney, Honda, Hello Kitty and the Sesame Workshop.
Over the last 26 years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has either recalled or taken corrective action on more than 150 toys called out in the PIRG surveys. CPSC is still evaluating the 2011 results, says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for U.S. PIRG.
The 2011 Hall of Shame
The following toys were found to be potentially dangerous due to higher levels of lead or other toxic chemicals than PIRG considers acceptable: Funny Glasses (Joking Around), Sleep Mask (Claire's), Little Hands Love Book (Piggy Toes Press), Whirly Wheel (LL), Spritz Medals (Spritz), Hello Kitty eyeshadow/keychain (Hello Kitty), Tinkerbell Watch (Disney Fairies), Peace Sign Bracelet (Family Dollar), Honda Motorcycle (Honda).
These toys have pieces that are choking hazards: Wooden blocks set (ToySmith), Sesame Street Oscar Doll (Sesame Workshop), Dinosaur multi pack, similar sea life and turtle packs (Greenbrier International), HABA fruit in a bag (HABA), Green rubber grape (iwako), Orange bear (4M2U), Flat baby blocks and square counting blocks (Greenbrier International), 4 dollar box items (Rhode Island Novelty) and Play ball x2 (Squishland).
The noise hazards list includes: Elmo's World Talking Cell Phone (Fisher-Price), Victorious Stereo Headphones (Nickelodeon) and Hotwheels' Super Stunt RAT BOMB (Hotwheels).
What's Missing From the Lists
Even if none of the toys mentioned above are ones your child wants or has, don't feel too comfortable. "Parents and toy givers need to know that the CPSC doesn't test all toys and that our report includes only a sampling of potentially hazardous toys," warns Mierzwinski. "Toys not on our list could pose hazards."
Last year, the CPSC recalled almost 200,000 individual toy units for violations of lead standards. Lead, when ingested, interferes with nervous system development and causes a host of other health issues. That makes it hazardous for anyone, but extra dangerous for children -- and a bad idea on anything they might put in their mouths.
Also last year, the CPSC recalled more than 3.5 million toys and other children's products because of choking hazards. Since 1990, of the more than 400 children's deaths associated with toys, more than half were caused by choking on balloons, small toy parts and small balls.
Protect the Little Ones in Your Life
Toys with small parts are banned for kids under age 3 and should be kept away from any children who still put things in their mouths, regardless of age. Small balls are especially risky.
Latex balloons are not recommended for children under 8. Broken latex balloon parts on the floor are very dangerous to toddlers and crawlers, but even older children are at risk for inhaling a piece of a balloon that explodes while being inflated.
"It is very important for parents who have older kids, as well as little ones who still put things in their mouth, to keep the older kids' small toys and balls away from the younger children," says Mierzwinski.
To test whether a toy or toy part is a choking hazard, use a standard toilet paper tube -- it'll be about 1.75 inches in diameter. If a toy, toy part or ball fits in it, it's too small for kids who put things in their mouths. (And in fact, that toilet paper tube is actually bigger than the standard "small parts tester." U.S. PIRG wants the standard to be made bigger, because some kids have choked on items that wouldn't fit into the current standard tester.
To avoid lead hazards, don't buy metal jewelry for kids. Don't let kids chew on brightly colored plastic or wooden toys. And pay attention to the age labels on toys -- those aren't just recommendations: There are safety implications to those labels.
"Think about how the child you are shopping for plays with toys. Do they put things in their mouth? Do they have younger siblings?" asks Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America.
If so, avoid buying toys with small parts -- and be safe.
For more information, visit www.saferproducts.gov and www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.