State News

“Trouble in Toyland,” a Vermont survey, finds dangerous toys on store shelves

Tips help parents shop safely

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund’s 30th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report. The survey of potentially hazardous toys found that, despite recent progress, consumers must still be wary when shopping this holiday season.

The report reveals the results of laboratory testing on toys for toxic chemicals, including chromium and phthalates, both of which can have serious, adverse health impacts on a child’s development. The survey also found examples of toys that pose a choking hazard, extremely loud toys that can threaten children’s hearing, and powerful toy magnets that can cause serious injury if swallowed.

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Falko Schilling, Consumer and Environment Advocate with VPIRG.

For 30 years, the VPIRG “Trouble in Toyland” report has offered safety guidelines for purchasing toys for small children, and provided examples of toys currently on store shelves that pose potential safety hazards. The research was conducted in collaboration with U.S. PIRG Education Fund. Over the years, the reports have led to over 150 recalls and other enforcement actions.

Michelle Fay, associate director of Voices for Vermont’s Children, explains, “Kids count on the adults in their life to keep them safe, so as we head into the holiday shopping season it’s extremely important for parents to have information about unsafe toys. Parents shouldn’t have to worry about dangerous or toxic toys at all — that’s why we’re a proud partner of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Vermont, which advocates for safer children’s products.”

Key findings

Toxicity: Toys with high levels of toxic substances are still on store shelves. According to chemical testing done at a lab that is accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

  • Fun Bubbles jump rope from Dollar Tree had 10 times the legal limit of the banned phthalate DEHP (tested at 10,000 ppm) and 190,000 ppm of the toxic phthalate DIBP which has not yet been banned. However, the CPSC has proposed a rule, which has not been finalized, that would add DIBP to the list of banned phthalates.
  • A fairy wand from Dollar Tree had small parts that easily break off, but was not labeled as a choking hazard despite a ban on small parts in toys for children under the age of 3.
  • The Disney Pixar Cars Riplash Racers and Disney Planes from Marshalls, G2 Air Mini Football and a Disney Finding Nemo Dory figurine from Five Below, and a Nickelodeon Mermaid Dora the Explorer from Target all had inadequate warning labels. These products may have labels suitable for foreign countries, but they were not sufficient to meet U.S. standards.
  • Magic Towels packaged as a small baseball and a small football at Dollar Tree which did not have the appropriate small ball warning label. The small balls pose a hazard for young children who are inclined to put objects in or near their mouths.
  • Balloons pose the most serious choking hazard to children in the U.S. All of the balloon packages we found did include the required warning label reading that children under age 8 can choke on balloons and balloon parts. However, we found three balloon sets from Party City which included a second, confusing label indicating that the products are for children ages 3 and older: the Balloon Animal Kit, Mega Value Pack 16 Latex Punch Balloons, and Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs.
  • Vtech Go! Go! Smart Wheels, Vtech Go! Go! Smart Animals, Vtech Spin & Learn Color Flashlight, Fisher Price Click n Learn Remote, and Leap Frog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set from Target that, while they don’t violate federal standards, were found to be extremely loud at the ear and at a distance. These toys are potentially harmful to children’s hearing.
  • Sizzlers noise magnets from Family Dollar, and Singing magnets from Dollar Tree that are “near-small-parts” which, while they don’t violate federal standards, are small enough to be swallowed and can cause severe internal damage. These small, powerful magnets pose a very dangerous threat to children if swallowed.

Over the past seven years, stronger rules have helped get some of the most dangerous toys and children’s products off the market. Rules put in place by the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out dangerous phthalates. Earlier this year, the CPSC implemented a ban on small, powerful toy magnets which is also an important step forward. However, not all toys comply with the law, and holes in the toy safety net remain.

“Our leaders and consumer watchdogs need to do more to protect our youngest consumers from the hazards of unsafe toys – no child should ever be injured, get sick, or die from playing with a dangerous toy,” said Schilling.

Other tests are completed under expert direction. The validity of the research methodology is amply demonstrated by the fact that the CPSC and toy manufacturers have taken at least 150 actions—recalls, stop sales, etc.—over the years in response to the annual toy safety report.

For more information visit the special 30th anniversary blog, which contains more toy safety tips, highlights and achievements over the past 30 years and read the full Trouble in Toyland report,

Parents can find a more comprehensive list of unsafe toys, as well as tips for safe toy shopping this holiday season, at

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