Safety experts at VCH present “Trouble in Toyland” report

Just before the peak of the holiday shopping season, U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) has released its 20th annual toy safety report. Experts at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt want parents to be aware of the potential hazards these toys may pose.

“Every year, we see children injured by toys they should not have been playing with,” said Barb Shultz, R.N., manager of trauma services at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. “Often the child has choked on or fallen from or been injured by a toy that was not appropriate for the child’s young age, or because of lack of safety equipment or proper supervision.”

During the holidays, when adults pick out toys as gifts for children to play with, there are a couple of ways inappropriate toys get into a young child’s hands.

“Adults get excited about toys that look fun to them, and they forget, or are mistaken about the age at which they might have enjoyed them when they were young,” Shultz said. “Also, in the rush of holiday shopping it’s easy to forget to look at the label carefully to see if there are any hazard warnings.”

According to the most recent data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), at least 16 children, all under 10, died in 2004 from toy-related injuries. Seven of the children died from choking on a toy or toy part. Approximately 210,300 people sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms in 2004 for toy-related injuries. At least 72,800 (35 percent) of those were under age 5. Riding toys, such as non-powered scooters, accounted for more injuries than any other category of toy at 34 percent.

In its executive summary this year, U.S. PIRG said, “Much of our advocacy has focused on the leading cause of toy deaths: choking. Despite federal regulations designed to reduce toy-related choking deaths, at least 157 children choked to death on children’s products between 1990 and 2004, a rate of about 10 deaths per year. That accounts for more than half of all toy-related deaths.”

Worst non-recalled offender: yo-yo balls

Consumer safety agencies around the world have fielded complaints from parents reporting incidents in which water yo-yos wrapped tightly around their children’s necks or caused injury to the face, eyes or head. As of July 2005, the CPSC had received more than 400 injury reports related to water yo-yo balls. Suffocation and strangulation incidents account for almost three-fourths (290 incidents) of reported injuries. Parents have found children with yo-yo balls wrapped multiple times around their necks. Parents report using knives, scissors, or even their teeth to cut the elastic cords of the tightly wrapped yo-yo balls. One child suffocated, passed out and fell, suffering a skull fracture. Another child was found bleeding from the mouth and had to be resuscitated using CPR. Two children needed eye surgery when the force of the ball snapping back shattered the lens of their eyes.

Toxic toys

PIRG researchers found several examples of play cosmetic sets marketed to children under the age of 5 that contained nail polish with toxic chemicals, such as toluene, xylene and dibutyl pthalate. Since children are prone to putting their hands in their mouths, nail polish can offer a direct route of exposure from the fingernails.

Toys that make excessive noise

The sound limits of 90 dB for hand held toys and 120 dB for explosive-type impulse sounds are too high. Exposure to sounds 85-90 decibels over two hours causes hearing loss. At 120 decibels, exposure for less than 30 seconds causes hearing loss.

To view the full report, including a listing of specific toys U.S. PIRG found to pose a hazard, go to


Be vigilant this holiday season and remember that:

  • The CPSC does not test all toys.
  • Not all toys meet CPSC regulations.
  • Toys that meet all CPSC regulations may still pose hazards, ranging from choking to hearing loss to chemical exposure.
  • Online toy retailers do not have to provide the same safety warnings that otherwise are legally required on the packaging of toys sold in stores.
  • Be aware of "hand-me-down" toys. Keep younger children away from toys with small parts designed for their older siblings.