The lead in the Captain America Soft Shield poses chronic health hazards to children.
The lead in the Captain America Soft Shield poses chronic health hazards to children.

By Sara Hosseini

A national consumer advocate says there is trouble in toyland, and is urging holiday shoppers to beware.

The California Public Interest Research Group says while safety regulations have improved over the past five years, since the 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act tightened lead limits and phased out phthalates, not all products comply and many loopholes remain.

The group’s 28th annual survey on toxic and hazardous toys reveals a number of concerns about products still on the shelves. They include excessively loud items, like toy smartphones, and products containing a host of toxic substances, such as the “Captain America Soft Shield,” which tested at 29 times the legal limit of lead.

CALPIRG’s consumer advocate John Fox says choking is also a problem. And rare earth magnets, like the “Sonic Sound Sizzlers Noise Magnets,” pose a special risk:

“When a young child swallows more than one of these, they can bind together inside the child’s body and cause internal injury to his organs.”

Doctors at University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital say they have seen the magnets pinch off children’s intestines, causing serious injury.

CALPIRG visited numerous national toy stores, malls and dollar stores this past fall to identify potentially dangerous toys. Researchers also examined the Consumer Product Safety Commission notices of recalls and other regulatory actions to identify trends in toy safety. They focused on toys that posed a potential toxic, choking, strangulation or noise hazard. The report’s main findings:

Lead continues to be a problem. Exposure to lead can affect almost every organ and system in the human body, especially the central nervous system.  Lead is especially toxic to the brains of young children and can cause permanent mental and developmental impairments. Phthalates and toxic metals are also present in some toys.

Choking is still a hazard. Choking — on small toy parts, on small balls, on marbles and on balloons — continues to be the major cause of toy-related deaths and injuries. Between 2001 and 2012, more than 90 children died from choking incidents. Fox says parents should avoid letting toddlers play with anything small enough to fit through a cardboard toilet paper tube.

Magnets can be dangerous. See the reference to rare earth magnets above. Also, magnet toys made with neodymium iron boron magnets, such as the Buckyball magnets that are the subject of a CPSC court action, are still available and continue to cause accidents.

Noisy toys can lead to hearing loss. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders advises that prolonged exposure to noise above 85 decibels will cause gradual hearing loss in any age range. Toys that are intended to be held close to the ear are not to exceed 65 decibels. Toys that held within close range (in a lap or on a table) are not to exceed 85 decibels.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor