Nov. 13, 2020 — As the holidays near, the hunt for presents begins. But not all children’s toys have made the nice list — among this year’s most dangerous items are a toolset with small parts, a toy with high noise levels, and high-powered magnets, according to a new watchdog report.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has released its 35th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report that highlights hazardous children’s toys. The 2020 report found several types of toys that should be avoided — with recalled toys topping the list. And as with most things, COVID-19 has only increased the dangers of these toys, the report says. With parents juggling virtual learning, pandemic difficulties, and their own jobs, monitoring kids is more challenging than ever.
“Parents and caregivers are overwhelmed,” Grace Brombach, a consumer watchdog associate with the research group, said during a Thursday webinar. “Older siblings are spending more time indoors with younger siblings. Toys meant for older children could end up in the hands of younger children.”
For example, the researchers found a Vtech Drill & Learn Toolbox11 — labeled for children 2 to 5 years old — that contains bolts that are 1.75 inches long by .75 inches wide at their widest point. According to a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, three children died from choking or aspirating on toy nails or pegs in 2006, though they were not from that specific toolset. The toy’s makers did not respond to a request for comment.
Experts on the webinar panel recommended using the “toilet paper roll test” — anything that can easily fit inside a toilet paper roll is not safe for children under 3 years old.
Panelist Kate Cronan, MD, an emergency medicine pediatrician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, stressed the dangers of keeping small objects around young children. She told the story of a 2-year-old who was recently rushed to her hospital’s emergency department after swallowing an eye from a baby doll. She recovered, but the eye had to be surgically removed from her esophagus.
“It’s nothing brand new, but it’s really important we know these kinds of things are happening,” she said.
The report also warns against flocked animals — fuzzy animal figures — like the popular Calico Critters, which come with accessories and are labeled for kids ages 3 years and older. According to the report, these toys and their accessories are suspected in the death of a child in New Mexico and the near-death of a boy in Utah. Both children were under 3 years old and reportedly choked on the same pacifier accessory.
The report recommends avoiding these products, especially if there are younger children in the house. But a statement from the toy’s makers said: “All Calico Critters products meet or exceed all US safety standards. We are confident that Calico Critters are safe and do not pose a risk to children older than the recommended age on packaging.”
Some products — like high-powered magnets — can cause damage if swallowed. In May, a 9-year-old swallowed three high-powered magnets made by Zen Magnets LLC, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. A week later, she needed emergency surgery after the swallowed magnets caused intense stomach pain.
According to a statement from Zen Magnets, there is a “dangerous impression that high-powered magnets are kids’ toys (they most certainly are not kids’ toys and should never be marketed as such).” Zen is working on new standards that will require child-resistant packaging and strong warnings on all sets of high-powered recreational magnets, the statement says.
In addition to choking and swallowing hazards, the report discussed the dangers of dangerously loud toys. Researchers found a firetruck on Amazon that plays sounds of 104 decibels at its highest point, the report says. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to noise of 100 decibels for longer than 15 minutes can damage hearing. A statement from the compliance liaison for Zetz Brands, the maker of the truck, says the company spends thousands of dollars on research and development for its products to ensure their safety.
The statement says “the subject matter has been tested for and approved to be in compliance with the CPCS safety requirements.”
But Brombach said “a toy that loud, especially when held close to a kid’s ear, can cause serious damage.” She recommends turning down the volume on loud toys if possible, removing batteries, or putting tape over the speaker to muffle noise.
The report also warns against recalled toys that are sold secondhand. Brombach said several pages of recalled toys were uncovered during an eBay search. To avoid gifting a recalled product, buyers should be aware of the 10 toys recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission over the past year. A search of saferproducts.gov also will disclose if a toy has been recalled.
Cronan said the fear of COVID-19 may deter people from taking their children to the emergency department after a dangerous toy incident that may not seem urgent at the moment. She strongly encourages parents and caregivers to call a doctor before deciding to stay home, so a professional can assess whether a trip to the hospital is needed.
“If something happens, they should call the doctor right away,” Cronan said. “I just want parents to feel they can get help.”