This time of year, most children are eagerly awaiting gifts of toys. But the safety of those new toys is never certain. Since 1974, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued more than 850 recalls for toy products. In 2007, 45 million toys had to be recalled.
And the recalls have not prevented all injuries. Between 2004 and 2008, toy-related injuries increased 12 percent, and over the last 10 years, toy-related injuries have increased 54 percent.
In 2007, a popular CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit contained a powder found to contain up to five percent asbestos, potentially sending lethal tremolite asbestos into the air and into children’s lungs. Once the hazard was known, manufacturer CBS Consumer Products refused to remove it from store shelves as Christmas approached. Rather than wait for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to negotiate a recall, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization filed a civil action to stop sales of the kit.
In 2008, more than 235,000 children were treated at U.S. emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, and at least 19 children died. Injuries from riding toys (such as scooters) and choking hazards accounted for the vast majority of fatalities and injuries, and have every year in the last decade. But beyond such commonplace hazards lies a myriad of dangers to confound even the most cautious parent.
Congress attempted to deal with the increased risk from children’s products by passing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) to strengthen the CPSC in 2008. However, the agency’s resources still amount to little more than a finger in the dyke. The agency has also been hampered in the past by the politicization of its leadership.
For example, earlier this year unsafe levels of cadmium were found in children’s jewelry, a toxic metal known to cause cancer and ranked as seventh on a federal list of the 275 most hazardous substances. An investigation found the origin of the metal was likely China, where the use of the toxin had been prompted, ironically, by the recent prohibition of using lead. The U.S. imports more than 30,000 tons of toys every year from foreign markets, accounting now for 95 percent of toys sold in the U.S.
While regulators lack the resources and staff to police the market, parents, consumer groups and the civil justice system have stepped into the void. To learn more about consumer groups and trial lawyers helping to force increased safety and regulation of toys sold in the U.S. see:
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) – Toy Safety
- ConsumerReports.org – Toy buying advice
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Lead Recalls
- American Academy of Pediatrics – Toy Safety: Guidelines for Parents
- Age-Appropriate Toys and Toys to Avoid
- World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH) – 10 Worst Toys