By Dr. Mercola
The US toy industry generates $22 billion in sales a year, with 65 percent of those sales taking place during the holiday season.1, 2 Unfortunately, many toys meant to bring children joy can end up injuring them instead, sometimes seriously.
According to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data, there were 265,000 toy-related injuries and 11 deaths in 2012 alone.3 Many parents assume the toys they purchase from well-known retailers and toy brands, or which feature characters from popular movies and television shows, are heavily regulated and safe.
A new report from the World Against Toys Causing Harm, or W.A.T.C.H., reveals significant hazards abound. According to W.A.T.C.H.:
"Some toys that are in compliance with current industry or regulatory standards have proven to be hazardous, proving the inadequacy of existing standards."
W.A.T.C.H., which recently revealed this season's 10 worst toys, has been compiling hazardous toy lists for more than three decades, notes that many of the same hazards continue to appear year after year, showing manufacturers' reluctance to make toys safer. Some of the top hazards could be easily changed, while others have no business being "toys" at all:
- Dangerous projectiles
- Strings that can cause strangulation
- Small detachable parts that present choking hazards
- Misleading or confusing warning labels, packaging, or instructions
- Toy "weapons" designed to look real
The Top 10 Worst Toys List
While holiday shopping this year, be on the lookout for potentially hazardous toys such as the 10 that follow. These toys are meant to be examples of the types of hazards that exist widely in the toy industry, and are certainly not the only dangerous toys on the market.
Some of these are common sense… if you give a child a slingshot or bow-and-arrow to play with, there are obvious risks involved. Still, the way these toys are marketed draws in children and parents alike, often giving an illusion of safety when none actually exists.
What the list did not cover, unfortunately, are the dangerous chemicals lurking in many toys (see below for more information). Still, the list is an important reference for anyone who is planning to shop for toys this season or any time of year. W.A.T.C.H. stated:
"We are warning parents not to assume the toys they buy are safe. Many consumers are under the impression that heightened public attention to toy safety, increased government regulations and screening by big name manufacturers and retailers have eliminated hazards from toy store shelves—but this is not the case.
The key message today is to let caregivers know that while there are dangerous toys being sold in retail stores, awareness this holiday season and year-round truly can save lives."
1. Air Storm Firetek Bow
This light-up bow-and-arrow set designed for kids 8 and up poses a potential for eye injuries. The arrows fly up to 145 feet and the toy (which is designed with illuminated arrows for "night or day" use) warns children not to pull back the arrows "more than half strength" or play with the toy "in complete darkness."
2. Radio Flyer Ziggle
This tricycle-like toy encourages children to "swerve & spin" and "race around the block," but its low profile makes it a hazard for cars. It also poses a risk of forehead and other impact injuries. And while the warning states to "always wear" a helmet and other safety gear, the packaging shows riders using the device without protective gear.
This toy is part pencil, part slingshot, which poses a risk of eye injuries. There are no warnings or age recommendations on the packaging, which encourages using the toy for "target practice from your desktop."
4. Alphabet Zoo Rock & Stack Pull Toy
This pull toy has a pull cord measuring about 20 inches long, which poses a strangulation hazard and could cause entanglement injuries. Strangulation warnings are printed on the toy's packaging but not on the toy itself. While strings on playpen and crib toys must be less than 12 inches long, pull toys have no such restrictions.
5. Swat Electric Machine Gun
This toy gun boasts "lights and realistic combat sound" and a warning that this "toy is a replica of a real weapon" that "may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others." According to W.A.T.C.H.:4
"In today's world, there is no excuse for outfitting children with realistic toy weapons designed to produce potentially dangerous and unnecessary thrills.
Existing regulations addressing the hazards associated with such 'toys' are inadequate. Detailed replicas have resulted in a number of deaths through the years and should never be sold as toys."
6. Wooden Instruments
One brand of wooden instruments distributed at Walmart stores is sold for babies as young as 12 months old, yet contains a slender, rigid 4.5-inch long drumstick, which could be ingested and cause choking. The toy contains no warnings.
7. Bottle Rocket Party
This bottle rocket kit, intended for children aged 8 and over, contains projectiles that could cause eye, face, or other impact injuries. It does include warnings that "this kit must only be used under strict supervision of adults," but it makes shooting off bottle rockets sound like a party event. Also, though they advise safety goggles be used, they are not supplied.
8. Lil Cutesies Best Friends Doll
These dolls are marketed to children as young as 2, yet contain a decorative bow that could be detached and pose a risk of choking if ingested.
9. True Legends Orcs Battle Hammer
This hard plastic "battle hammer" is almost two feet long and poses the potential for blunt impact injuries. There are no warnings or cautions included.
10. Colored Hedgehog
This stuffed hedgehog, distributed by Toys R Us, is marketed to infants (ages 0+), but it has long, fiber-like hair that is "not adequately rooted and is easily removable." It poses a potential for ingestion and aspiration injuries, a risk that is not referenced anywhere on the product or tag.
Chemicals: The Even More Insidious Toy Hazard
Just like many household products, toys are commonly made from materials that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (like bisphenol-A or BPA), carcinogens, and even toxic metals like lead. These chemicals are found in many toys at leading toy retailers, like Toys R Us. You might be familiar with some of the recommendations to avoid such toxins, such as choosing toys made from natural materials like fabric and wood, instead of plastic, but in some cases you may need to avoid a type of toy entirely.
One such example is make-up designed to be kid-friendly and "safe" for kids. One Toys R Us private label brand, TM! products, was recently outed by Andrea Donsky, the founder and editor-in-chief of NaturallySavvy.com.5 Some of the chemicals found in these children's cosmetics (nail polish, hair and body gel, blushes, eye shadows, and lip glosses) include:
✓ Propylene glycol, a solvent that produces a carcinogenic byproduct called 1,4 Dioxane
✓ Imidazolidinyl urea, a formaldehyde-releasing preservative that is carcinogenic and may cause allergic skin reactions
✓ Fragrance, which may contain hundreds of synthetic toxic chemicals that are undisclosed on the label
✓ Parabens, which are carcinogens and endocrine disrupters that are used as preservatives
✓ Synthetic dyes, which are often derived from coal tar and may be carcinogenic
✓ BHT, a preservative linked to tumor development in animals as well as developmental effects and thyroid changes, which suggests it may be an endocrine disrupter
Other brands, such as Disney and Barbie, didn't fare any better. According to Donsky, of the children's cosmetics sold at Toys R Us that she reviewed: "They all contain parabens, phthalates and/or synthetic dyes. One of them even contains an artificial sweetener!"
Aside from children's makeup, other top offenders included temporary tattoos, face painting sticks, glitter nail art, and body art. All contained chemicals on par with the toxins commonly found in adult cosmetics, and in some cases even worse. The Toy Industry Association (TIA) and the American Chemistry Council have successfully defeated numerous bills and policies that would have helped to keep hazardous chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, formaldehyde, and others out of children's toys.6
Last year, for instance, both groups opposed a now-defeated bill that would have required toy manufacturers to disclose the presence of 19 "high priority chemicals of concern for children's health" – and remove the chemicals within five years.7 Many of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, fertility issues, thyroid disruption, and developmental problems, including brain damage and lower IQ, in children.
Steer Clear of Food-Based Toys…
The Easy Bake Oven is one of the most nostalgic family toys, but according to Donsky, the baking kits included with this brand are filled with toxic ingredients you and your children shouldn't be eating. The same goes for the other food-based toys that Donsky encountered at her local Toys R Us – items like Cake Pops, a Blizzard Maker, and Slurpee Kits. Hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, genetically modified soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives are par for the course. If it makes you upset that kids are quite literally being deceived into destroying their health potential by junk food companies seeking revenue, then you will be equally dismayed to know that these junk foods are allowed to blatantly masquerade as children's toys.
As you exit most Toys R Us stores, you'll also pass by row upon row of candy, sodas and other snacks that represent the epitome of junk food, and which have been overwhelmingly implicated in rising obesity and chronic disease rates—especially among kids. Junk-food marketers know kids love toys, and what better place to capture their attention than in a toy store? Toys R Us, however, has the power to force its suppliers to at least remove the chemicals that we know are harmful, especially since their target market is children. If you'd like to get involved, please sign the petition below asking Toys R Us to stop selling products with toxic chemicals.
How to Choose Safe Toys: What to Look For
As W.A.T.C.H. stated, toys are designed and marketed for sales over safety. It's very much a "buyer-beware" market when it comes to children's toys, not only in regard to safety features but also in regard to the quality of materials and toxic compounds therein. So in addition to regularly monitoring toys in your home for broken parts, sharp surfaces, or dangerous wear-and-tear, you'll want to pay attention to the quality of the materials from which your children's toys are made.
There are many "green" and organic toy manufacturers that produce truly toxin-free toys for kids. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly and ask them what materials are used, and which are excluded, directly. Read toy labels and ask questions about where and how the toy is made. Additional tips to finding safe, pure toys include:
- Purchase natural fabric or wooden toys instead of plastic ones, and if you're going to purchase teethers and pacifiers, looks for those that are BPA- and phthalate-free (a frozen washcloth makes a great "natural" teether)
- Avoid toys made from PVC plastic (soft vinyl plastic), which often contains lead and phthalates
- Avoid children's "play" jewelry and cosmetics, as well as food-based toys
- Repurpose items around your home as toys (stainless steel bowls, measuring cups, cardboard boxes… get creative using items around your home as toys for kids)
- Purchase simple high-quality toys that encourage imaginative play (wooden blocks, materials for building forts, construction paper, books, etc.)