Blair Horner: Keeping The Holiday Season Safe For Children

Nov 26, 2018

Thanksgiving was the kick off of the holiday shopping season. It’s 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 that some posed health and safety threats to children. Among the toys surveyed were examples of choking and excessive noise hazards and toys with potentially hazardous concentrations of toxins. 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.

For more than 30 years, the United States Public Interest Research Group’s (USPIRG) Trouble in Toyland has issued toy safety guidelines and has provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards to small children. Key findings from this year’s report include:

  1. Hazardous Slime: A number of popular ‘slimes’ had toxic levels of boron, likely in the form of borax, up to fifteen times the European Union’s limit. According to the EPA, ingesting boron can cause nausea, vomiting, long-term reproductive health issues and can even be fatal. There are currently no limits on boron in children’s toys in the U.S.
  2. Missing Online Choking Warnings: In a survey of five search pages for balloons sold on Amazon, U.S. PIRG found no choking hazard labels on 87 percent of the latex balloons marketed to parents of children under 2, an apparent violation of the law. Among children’s products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death.
  3. Privacy-Invasive Smart Toys: The report also highlights two smart toys, a robot toy and a tablet, with privacy concerns discovered through an investigation by the Mozilla Foundation. Every year, the potential for smart toys to expose private data becomes a more significant concern.

While there are currently no limits on boron in children’s toys in the U.S., the advocacy organization is calling for warning labels to be placed on products and a full public hearing to determine safe levels of boron.

Last year, 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.
  • Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at www.saferproducts.gov.
  • 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 accessibility 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;
  • 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.

View our full Trouble in Toyland report at www.nypirg.org. Parents can find our list of unsafe toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at toysafetytips.org.

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.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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