Toy Safety – It’s Not Just About Choking Anymore

For kids, Christmas typically means one thing: more toys.

It goes without saying that when devising a toy wish list, kids don’t pay much attention to potential safety risks. However, studies show these risks are very real and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The focus among toy safety experts has shifted greatly in the last few years. In the past, the safety of a particular toy was based largely on its mechanical hazards, such as small pieces that could be swallowed or sharp edges that could result in cuts.  While these risks continue to be monitored, the last few years have seen growing awareness of the synthetic— and potentially dangerous—chemicals that go into making toys.

There are tens of thousands of industrial chemicals on the market in the U.S. that have never been tested for long-term health effects; they are used in everyday electronic equipment, cosmetic products, food containers and a growing number of children’s products.

It’s a widely-held belief, though not scientifically verified, that the health risks are minimal because the chemicals are used in small amounts can rarely be traced to a specific malady.

However, scientists are concerned that the risk for potentially dangerous chemical exposure is much greater in children than adults.Young people have under developed immune systems and are far more likely to be impacted by low dose exposure to chemicals like lead and phthalates.  Also, kids often stick toys in their mouths and are therefore more directly exposed.

While all this sounds alarming, there are federal laws and several watchdog groups that are working to ensure children’s products maintain high safety standards.  In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.  It expanded the government’s budget for monitoring the way consumer goods are made.  It also beefed up enforcement power to get potentially unhealthy products off the market more quickly.  Experts say the law is a step in the right direction but can only go so far, as many chemicals remain unregulated.

The Public Interest Research Group puts out a report each year on toy safety.  The report includes specifics on product recalls, industry trends, and provides recommendations and useful tools for parents: The Trouble in Toyland Report.