Trouble in Toyland: Quality Control and Compliance Falls Short

Many of us will hit the stores on Black Friday for some early holiday shopping. But a new report, “Trouble in Toyland”, out this month warns consumers to avoid certain children’s toys that could be unsafe.

The report from U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, cautions parents about the possible hazards of some toys—including dangerous chemicals, small parts, magnets, and drawstrings which could cause strangulation—and provides recommendations to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

U.S. PIRG has released an annual report for the past 27 years and its findings have resulted in more than 150 recalls and other regulatory actions. This year, the group found problems with toys in both dollar stores and big-box retail outlets nationwide.

The report looked at lead in toys and found at least one toy that violated the CPSC’s lead standard of 100 ppm (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a lead limit of 40 ppm). The report also calls for tighter regulation of phthalates, exposure to which can lead to premature de­livery in pregnant women and reproductive defects.

Small but powerful magnets exported from China are another concern. The CPSC estimates that between 2009 and 2011 there were 1,700 emergency room cases nationwide involving the inges­tion of high-powered magnets. More than 70 percent of these cases involved children between the ages of four and 12, the report states.

When ingested, a small magnet can pass through a child’s digestive system with no problem, but when more than one powerful magnet is swallowed they can attract to each other and rip through the intestine, causing severe damage.

Small parts in toys for very small children is also an issue. Some toys containing small parts were improperly labeled or the labels were obscured, the reports found.

And noise too is becoming an increasing problem in children’s toys. What parent hasn’t confiscated or “accidently” dropped a noisy toy?

U.S. PIRG found two items—a car driving wheel on a console and a toy guitar—on store shelves that exceeded the recommended limit for continuous exposure of 85 decibels. It also found a key chain that exceeded the 65 decibel limit.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advises that pro­longed exposure to noise above 85 decibels will cause gradual hearing loss in any age range.

Recalls on hazardous toys, or even the perception that a product is unsafe, can cause major setbacks to manufacturers that rely on the holidays to rake in extra profits. The U.S. PIRG report underscores for manufacturers the importance of regulatory compliance and diligent quality control throughout the supply chain. And it reiterates to consumers the need for vigilance.

Advice for holiday shoppers:

  • Examine toys carefully for potential dangers before you make a purchase
  • Shop with U.S. PIRG’s Toy Safety Tips
  • Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC or call the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772

About Nancy Pardo

Nancy Pardo is a Seattle-based writer and editor. She holds an MA in Professional Writing. She began her career as a Washington DC-area reporter, moving on to become an editor and contributor for several top industry magazines in the U.S. and the Middle East. Nancy currently works for PTC as content marketing director and manages the company's award-winning blog Product Lifecycle Stories.
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