Parents Beware: The Dangerous Holiday Toys of 2011

With the holiday season upon us, stores are once again full of parents eager to buy their children the perfect gift. For most shoppers, no thought is given to whether the product they are interested in purchasing meets the safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). In some cases, gift buyers may innocently purchase a product that presents a potentially harmful risk to the young recipient.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission

Congress created the CPSC by passing the Consumer Product Safety Act in 1972. According to its website, the purpose of the CPSC is to ensure the safety of the public from "unreasonable risks of injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products" under its jurisdiction. In particular, many household products — such as toys and cribs — fall under the control of the agency. Part of the CPSC's work is writing and enforcing rules aimed at ensuring that these products are safe and that the public is informed of potential risks.

Because most toy consumers are children — a highly susceptible group of individuals-the CPCS's focus of safety must be tailored accordingly. Many products, such as marbles, pacifiers, rattles and balloons, have specific rules aimed at protecting their most likely users. However, the CPSC is a complaint-based agency; products that are subject to its regulations are not tested prior to being made available to the public. Rather, the CPSC has the power to investigate complaints and, if appropriate, begin a more thorough investigation. In the most serious cases, the CPSC may issue a mandatory recall of a particular item.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group

In addition to the CPSC, consumer watchdogs — such as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group — take it upon themselves to investigate products and inform the public of any safety issues. For the past 26 years, PIRG has released an informative survey of toy safety. This annual review investigates toys for compliance with CPSC regulations and makes recommendations to both consumers and the CPSC to inform them and improve safety conditions.

This year, PIRG dedicated sections of the survey specifically to toxins, choking hazards, strangulation hazards and excessively loud toys. Testing of various toys against the standards promoted by the CPSC for each of these areas yielded a number of violators. For example:

  • Sleep Mask by Clair's has a phtalate level 77 times the standard (phtalates are chemicals added to plastic to make it more flexible and is believed to cause health hazards)
  • Little Hands Love Book by Piggy Toes Press has a lead level more than twice the acceptable standard
  • Sesame Street Doll Oscar by Sesame Workshop has small parts that are a potential choking hazard
  • Orange Bear by 4M2U may present a choking hazard and does not display the required warning label
  • Elmo's World, Talking Cell Phone by Fisher-Price exceeds the sound level allowed for "close-to-the-ear" toys
  • Victorious Stereo Headphones by Nickelodeon also exceeds the sound level allowed for "close-to-the-ear" toys

While both the CPSC and PIRG work hard to investigate and inform the public of potential hazards, it may not be possible for either to identify all violators and risks. It is important that consumers-particularly parents-become aware of safety regulations and report possible violators. This winter, shoppers should inform themselves of the potential risks presented by certain products and avoid dangerous products to ensure a safe and happy holiday season for the little ones in their lives.

For the full list of dangerous toys to watch out for this season, check out PIRG's 26th Annual Survey on Toy Safety.