How To Buy Safe Toys This Holiday Season

Busying Safe Toys This Holiday Season; American Family Children's HospitalMADISON – Following the wave of recalled toys in 2007, parents may be more wary about the gifts they're buying this holiday season. How will they know they're truly safe for their kids?


Nan Peterson, SAFE Kids coordinator at American Family Children's Hospital, offers parents a few suggestions: 

  • Be vigilant 
  • Buy age-appropriate toys 
  • Actively supervise children during play 
  • Identify dangerous, small parts 
  • Inspect toys to make sure they are in good repair 
  • Ensure you also purchase safety gear such as helmets to accompany the items, such as skis or bikes, that require them

Inappropriate toys, toys with small parts, broken toys, or even toys made with dangerous substances can be potentially fatal for children. In 2007, 44 percent of toy-related deaths were due to choking, while nearly 80,000 emergency room visits for children under the age of five were the result of injuries from toys.


To help parents figure out which toys are unsafe, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, or WISPIRG, recently released its 23rd annual survey of toy safety during a presentation at American Family Children's Hospital. Their surveys have been responsible for 130 toy recalls and other actions to remove dangerous toys from shelves over the last several years.


Still Buyer Beware


The good news, according to Bruce Speight, WISPIRG advocate, is that Congress recently passed landmark legislation aimed at protecting the littlest consumers from unsafe toys.


The legislation, the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act, increases the Consumer Public Safety Commission's (CPSC) budget and provides it with the resources to speed recalls; move closer to banning toxic lead and phthalates in children's toys; improve inspection of imported toys; establish an online database of unsafe toys; and establish mandatory testing for toys.


"While the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is a major step forward, many of its protections won't be in effect until 2009, so it's still Buyer Beware for this shopping season," said Speight.


Complicating the issue is that the CPSC is actually moving to delay one of the new law's toxic-toy protections. The CPSC action would allow companies to continue selling toys with phthalate chemicals until they run out, instead of eliminating them by the original February 10 deadline.Buying Safe Toys This Holiday Season; American Family Children's Hospital


Guidelines for Purchasing Safe Toys


In the face of such challenges, WISPIRG's report "Trouble in Toyland," offers parents safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of possibly unsafe toys currently on store shelves.


Among the three main hazards:

  • Choking: Toys with small parts are particularly dangerous for children under the age of three.

    "Parents can use an empty toilet-paper tube to determine whether a toy is too small for a child under the age of three," said Speight. "If the part fits within the tube, a child can choke on it."

    Balloons remain a hazard for children as old as seven. Despite that, WISPIRG researchers still found balloons marketed to kids available in stores.
  • Lead: Many parents are familiar with the dangers presented by lead. It is a powerful neurotoxin that can lower IQ, delay development and even lead to death. According to WISPIRG, in 2006, a four-year-old child died of lead poisoning after he swallowed a bracelet charm that was 99 percent lead.

    Despite the known dangers, WISPIRG researchers easily found toys with high levels of lead in a variety of stores. One piece of jewelry was 45 percent lead by weight, 750 times current CPSC standards.

    Many parents may not think about the paint on toys, but one remote-control car that researchers readily found on toy shelves contained lead equivalent to 160 parts per million. Beginning in August 2009, the CPSC will ban lead paint at levels higher than 90 parts per million.
  • Phthaltes: Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics softer, and yet extensive research has documented the potential negative health effects from exposure to them. Children are the most vulnerable.

    Toys made from phthalates would be banned under the new law. But the CPSC legal opinion enabling manufacturers to keep selling their remaining stock could mean these toys are on the market for years.

    "Congress gave America's littlest consumers the gift of safety; they should not let the CPSC take it away,” said Speight.

    In response to the legal opinion, WISPIRG will urge Congress to take action to overturn the decision.

Speight reminded parents that the toy list in WISPIRG's report represents only a sampling of the potential hazards on store shelves. For help in choosing safe toys, consumers should refer to the Public Interest Research Group's Tips for Toy Safety, which can be found at


"Shoppers should remember to examine all toys carefully for hidden dangers before making a purchase this holiday season," said Speight.


Hidden Dangers


While the main focus is on the safety of toys, Michelle Reinen from the Wisconsin Bureau of Consumer Protection reminded parents that toy packaging can pose danger as well.


"Get rid of all the small parts as far as packaging, the small baggies, the tape," said Reinen. Twist ties, small plastic holders, and other items pose a choking hazard, while scissors and other tools can be a danger as well.


"Make sure children have a safe zone to play in," she continued. "Make sure the packaging doesn't become the hazard once you've selected that safe toy this holiday season."


Parents who have any concerns or problems with a toy or other item can contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at (800) 422-7128.


Parents and grandparents should also check to ensure such things as play yards, cribs, or pack-and-plays haven't been recalled when they pull the items out for visitors to use. This last fall there were numerous recalls.


For more information on recalls, parents can visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at They can also sign up to receive e-mail notifications when toys are recalled.


When it comes to shopping for safe toys, Speight reminded parents that, "Common sense is still the most important tool."



Pictured top: Bruce Speight, WISPIRG advocate. Pictured above right: Bruce Speight and Nan Peterson, American Family Children's Hospital SAFE Kids Coordinator

Date Published: 11/26/2008

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