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Blair Horner: Keeping The Holiday Season Safe For Children

Thanksgiving was the start of the holiday shopping season. The holiday shopping season is a time when many adults look for gifts for children. And while the holidays are a time for fun and giving, it is important that it be a safe time as well.

A recent survey of toys found some that posed health and safety threats to children (the New York version of the report can be found at here). Among the toys surveyed, there were examples of choking hazards and toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. The continued presence of these hazards in toys highlights the need for constant vigilance on the part of government agencies and the public to ensure that children do not end up playing with unsafe toys.

The problems the report identified included:

  • Toys containing toxic substances, specifically lead. Childhood exposure to even low levels of lead can undermine development, damaging academic achievement and attentiveness.
  • Toys with small parts have pieces that might block a child’s airway. Children, especially those under age three, can choke on small parts. Small balls less than 1.75 inches in diameter represent a choke hazard for children three years old and younger. Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product.
  • Beyond choking hazards, some small, easily ingested, toy parts pose other hazards. When two or more powerful magnets are swallowed, they can have fatal health consequences as their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, perforating intestinal walls.
  • Toys with batteries. When batteries are ingested, chemical reactions can burn through the esophagus and blood vessels, causing fatal internal bleeding.
  • Toys that generate excessive noise. Excessive noise exposure can lead to hearing loss. This is especially problematic for young children: Hearing loss at an early age has ramifications for speech development.

In addition, the advent of new interactive toys can pose other concerns. The report alerted parents and toy givers to so-called “connected toys” that may violate children’s privacy and other consumer protection laws. As more and more products are part of the “Internet of Things,” data collection and the sharing of consumer information become greater concerns. As an example, the report listed a doll, which has been banned in Germany for privacy violations and is the subject of a complaint by several consumer groups to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission because it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to consumers to “consider cyber security prior to introducing smart, interactive, internet-connected toys into their homes.”

Despite recent progress in making toys safer, the report highlighted the need for continued attention to shortcomings in existing standards and vigilance on the part of the shopping public. To keep children safe from potentially hazardous toys, there is still more to do.

  • Examine toys carefully for hazards before purchase – and don’t trust that they are safe just because they are on a store shelf or available on-line. Generally, we found that retail stores were conscientious about keeping toys subject to recall off their shelves. However, some recalled toys were still available on-line.
  • Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC.
  • Subscribe to government announcements of recalled products at www.recalls.gov.

For toys already owned:

  • Remove small batteries if there is any question over their security or inaccessibility and keep them out of reach of children;
  • Remove batteries from or tape over the speakers of toys you already own that are too loud; and
  • Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths.

Policymakers must do more to protect children from dangerous toys. But until actions are taken, adults should take care in the gifts that they purchase. Smarter choices can help keep this holiday season safe.