Making a list and checking it twice

Shopping for youngsters this holiday season? You’ll want to check your list twice to ensure you’re following these updated toy safety guidelines.

Protecting future generations

Each fall, the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM) Education Fund conducts a survey of toys in preparation for the holiday shopping season. Dubbed “Trouble in Toyland,” the 27th annual survey inspects products through four safety categories—toxic concerns, choking hazards, magnets and noisy toys. The report has spurred several recalls in the past and continues to advocate for stronger federal laws protecting children from potentially harmful products.

“We want to praise the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) because we definitely found fewer hazards than we have in years past,” Meghan Hess, a PIRGIM program advocate said. “But our study is not meant to be exhaustive, it’s just a survey and so parents definitely need to be on the lookout.”

Hess said the survey does not target specific stores or brands, but rather selects items that researchers suspect to be harmful. Based on the category—toxic chemicals, noisy toys, etc.—the toy is either examined by PIRGIM staff or sent to a lab for chemical testing.

So whether you are adding items to your cart in the store aisle or online, Hess highlights several health concerns surrounding potentially hazardous toys.

Toxic chemicals

“The scariest part about the toxic hazards is that you can’t tell by looking at the toy,” Hess said. “(Parents) can look at a toy and test at home whether it’s going to be a choking hazard but you can’t know instinctively whether something has toxic chemicals in it and could cause developmental effects.”

So PIRGIM selects several toys made of metal and plastic to be chemically tested at STAT Analysis Corporation in Chicago.

Some of the toxins they look for include lead and cadmium in metal products and phthalates found in plastic toys.


Lead is particularly harmful to developing brains of young children but also affects nearly every organ and organ system in the body, the report said.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) set the current 100 parts per million (ppm) standard for lead, which is an improvement from last year’s reported standard of 300ppm. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that toys do not exceed 40ppm.


Cadmium is also found in metallic children’s toys, most commonly—play jewelry. When exposed to large amounts of cadmium over time, negative health effects include bone pain, fractures and may cause learning disabilities in developing children. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) implemented the legal limit for cadmium in children’s jewelry as 300ppm.


Phthalates are used to increase flexibility of plastic products. Health implications of increased phthalate exposure include reproductive complications—early onset of puberty or lower sperm counts—as well as premature delivery for unborn children exposed to phthalates. Six different phthalates have been documented as harmful and include di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP), butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and di(n-octyl) phthalate (DNOP).

No toy item or childcare item—such as shampoo—may legally contain more than 1000ppm of phthalates.

This year, no hazardous toys in these categories were found, but “That doesn’t mean they’re not on the shelves,” Hess said.

Although, the report notes that one toy tested exceeded the 100 ppm lead standard, with a lab result of 180ppm. And several other toys registered above the AAP-recommended limit of 40ppm.

Because parents can’t conclude whether a product is chemically hazardous, it’s up to statewide toy manufacturers to abide by federal regulations.

Some states including California and Washington have implemented additional legal requirements in addition to federal regulations as an effort to protect future generations. An example includes further labeling noting that a toy item contains phthalates and which phthalates in particular.

But if parents want to be extra cautious, Hess recommends avoiding toys made of metal or plastic altogether and purchase play items made of wood or cotton instead.

Choking hazards

When shopping for children under the age of 3, Hess recommends being particularly careful when purchasing smaller objects.

“We need to have (the standard) enlarged,” Hess said as young children have choked on toys that meet the current federal standard size.

“Toys that are almost round—as in a strawberry from a toy food set—can become lodged in the airway just like a toy ball would,” Hess said. “And the standard (size) for balls is bigger. So we want to make sure that something that is roundish is treated as if it were round to be extra sure.”

To ensure a young child won’t choke on a particular toy, parents can use a toilet paper tube to test the object. If the toy passes through the tub with ease, it is too small for children under 3.


“We also want to warn parents about magnets because if those are swallowed, they can have really severe effects,” Hess said.

When two or more magnets are in the body, they can attract each other while passing through the digestive system. This can cause the magnets to perforate tissue, inferring severe injury, the report states with most of these incidents occur between the ages of 4 and 12. PIRGIM continues to urge for safer magnet products.

Noisy toys

When it comes to testing the noise levels of potentially harming toys, PIRGIM researchers use a sound meter.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration shares that exposure to sounds at 85 decibels (dB) or higher can result in hearing damage and toys should not exceed this limit.

“Some toys that we found on the shelves (this fall) that exceed the decibel limits can cause long-term hearing damage in children,” Hess said.

Feel like you have a toy that may be too loud? PIRGIM suggests covering speakers of loud toys with tape just to be safe.

Being confident with your holiday gifts

Overall, the standards haven’t changed since last year, Hess said. “Although we argue that in some cases they should,” she said, noting the particular concern of choking hazards. “I’m relieved and excited that the toy store shelves are getting safer because one toy-related injury to a child is one too many.”

But, Hess agrees it’s still alarming that some toxic and hazardous toys are still on the shelves this holiday season.

“I don’t have children myself but I certainly shop for kids so I want to make sure that I—and anyone else who’s shopping for children—don’t have to worry that what they’re going to give this child for Christmas is going to harm them.”

Rochester toyshop focuses on American, German toys

Local storeowner Geoff Lytle of Froggy’s Toy Stop on 4th Street said he actively purchases toys made in the United States to help avoid child health and safety concerns in the wake of the China toy recall a couple years prior.

While there are no particular guidelines that the store must follow regarding the safety concerns, Lytle keeps his customers in mind when considering which manufacturers to order from.

As a shop owner, he appreciates the frequent paperwork attached to toy orders noting the products are safe

“We are getting more documentation showing that (manufacturers) are complacent and how (the toys) have been tested and where they’ve been tested and who did the testing and the date that it was done,” Lytle said.

Lytle has noticed that his customers are also increasingly proactive with their purchasing endeavors with the abundance of accessible toy information online.

Whether you’re on the go or just interested in taking a peek at the updated recalled-toy list, visit PIRGIM’s mobile connection at

If you’d like to report a potentially hazardous product, be sure to visit

PIRGIM is an independent, state-based, citizen-funded organization that advocates for the public interest and is a member of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups.

For more information about PIRGIM and their work, check out or (Don’t forget to read the full “Trouble in Toyland” report, too.)

To learn more about the American Academy of Pediatrics, visit

About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at

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