[ PIRG's Consumer Program | Product Safety | Toys ]

PIRG:  Tips for Toy Safety

How can parents be sure that a toy is safe? It is not always easy to tell. Some safety standards -- like the prohibition of the use of lead paint, or insulation standards for electric toys -- are not always apparent to the eye. Most toys are packaged in ways that make it difficult for the purchaser to check. And most consumers just do not know what to look out for when toy shopping.

 When purchasing toys for young children, consumers should check for small parts that may choke or cords that may strangle. And while PIRG advocacy focuses on toys with small parts, parents should beware of toys with other types of hazards as well. Toys with small parts, small balls and marbles are banned for sale if intended for children under 3. If intended for older children, these toys, and balloons, must include a choke hazard warning. The 1994 Child Safety Protection Act requires the following warning on toys intended for children 3-6 years old, that contain small parts:

Warning: CHOKING HAZARD: Small Parts. Not For Children Under 3.

Toys with Small Parts: Get a "no-choke testing tube" at better toy stores. To see if a toy or toy part is potentially dangerous because of its size, place it -- without compressing it -- into the tube. If it fits entirely within the tube in any orientation, it should not get into the hands of children under the age of three and others who still put things in their mouths. If you are unsure of the durability of a toy that may break into small parts, don't buy it! And be wary of bin toys, without packages. Bins in any toy store, and especially in "dollar stores" and low-price drug stores are where many choking hazards are found. 

  • Remember that children have choked on toys that pass the choke tube cylinder test. PIRG advocates enlarging the choke tube. Many toys intended for older children have such small parts, particularly action figures and building sets. If you have a child that tends to put things in her mouth, avoid toys that are smaller than the child's fist or that fit through a cardboard toilet paper roll. Be conscious of objects that have potentially dangerous small parts: removable eyes and noses on stuffed toys and dolls; small, removable squeakers on squeeze toys; and little figures and pieces fitted into larger toys. 


Balloons: Balloons are the leading toy killer. Always supervise children with balloons, inflated or not. Keep balloons away from children under 8. Remember, if a balloon bursts while a child is blowing it up, it could be inhaled. PIRG believes balloons labeled ãBabyâs First Birthdayä or with cartoon figures attractive to toddlers, e.g., Barney, are particularly inappropriate.

Small Balls and Marbles and Ball-like Objects: Children as old as 5 have choked to death on small balls and marbles as large as 1.75 inches. Be careful of ball-like beads and other round objects. Small balls intended for children under 3 must be larger than 1.75 inches, since 1995. However, ball-like objects, such as round fruit and vegetable toys, which pose the same hazards as balls, are NOT subject to the more stringent small ball tester but instead to the easier choke test cylinder.

Crib toys: Examine crib toys for possible strangulation hazards, look at the labeling of the toy and at the length of any cords or strings. Crib gyms (toys that are stretched across the crib) should always be removed from the crib when babies can get up on hands and knees (5 months old). Crib toys should not have cords or strings longer than 6".

 Strangulation Hazards: Strings, cords, and necklaces can strangle infants. Infant toys that include cords can present a strangulation hazard if the cord is put around an infant's neck.

Projectiles: Can lacerate skin or blind or deafen a child who is struck in the eye or ear. The CPSC has recalled a number of cheap winged flying dolls and action figures that catapult off hand held launchers. PIRG has received complaints of eye injuries caused by rocket toys intended for 3-6 year olds.

Other Regulations: Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) and the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), the CPSC regulates certain toys and other children's articles. Manufacturers must manufacture their products to meet these regulations. CPSC regulations address numerous other toy-related hazards:

Sharp Points and Edges: Toys with sharp points or edges can lacerate, cut or puncture skin. CPSC provides manufacturers with testing methods to ensure that toys and other children's articles intended for those under the age of eight years do not have sharp points or edges.

Pacifiers and Rattles: CPSC requires pacifiers and rattles to be large enough so that they cannot become lodged in an infant's throat. Pacifiers and rattles must also be constructed so that they will not separate into small pieces. Be wary of rattle-shaped toys, such as xylophone mallets, that may not meet the rattle test because they are intended for older children..

Lawn Darts: The CPSC banned lawn darts in 1988 because they present a significant risk of skull puncture wounds. Before lawn darts were banned, an average of 670 people were injured every year. Three children died in accidents involving lawn darts.

Clacker Balls: Clacker balls are a novelty toy consisting of two plastic balls connected by a cord which can be "clacked" together by a rhythmic motion of the hand. These toys must be manufactured so that the plastic balls will not shatter or fly off the ends of the cord.

Noise: Toy Caps and Guns: To prevent hearing damage, the CPSC has limited the noise that toy caps and guns may make to 138 decibels (dB). This noise level is virtually as high as the impact (momentary) noise level to which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) allows workers to be exposed -- 140 dB. PIRG believes that the CPSC should lower the permissible noise level for caps, and establish low noise limits for other toys. To date the CPSC has not implemented any noise regulations for other toys. Toy telephones commonly are louder than 90 decibels. Hearing experts say: ãif a toy held to an adultâs ear hurts, it is too loud for children.ä

Lead in Paint: To prevent lead poisoning, the amount of lead in paint used on toys and other children's articles is limited to less than 0.06 percent. In the last several years there has been a sharp increase in the number of toys recalled by the CPSC for excess lead in paint. 

Aluminized Polyester Film Kites: The CPSC has banned these kites since they could become entangled in power lines and cause electric shock or electrocution.

Toxic Art Supplies: Following a PIRG campaign to pass a toxic art supply labeling law, arts and craft supplies must be labeled for their long-term (chronic) health hazards. Watch out for childrenâs makeup kits that may contain toxics ö such as toulene ö in nail polish. Thatâs unacceptable.

PHTHALATE CONTAINING POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC) TOYS: Recently, several European countries have banned the use of these toxic chemicals -- which are linked to liver and kidney problems and are probable human carcinogens -- for use in teething toys intended for children under 3. Some toy companies, such as Mattel, are phasing out their use. PIRG strongly believes that parents should not expose their children to toxic phthalate chemicals in any toy. Unfortunately, no law requires disclosure ö and many toys made of PVC are labeled ãnon-toxic.ä For a list of alternates to toxic phthalate toys provided by Greenpeace, contact us.

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      Washington, DC 20003

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