The past few years have not been good ones for companies that manufacture toys and kids who play with them. In September, Fisher-Price recalled 7 million tricycles due to safety concerns. In June, McDonald’s recalled 12 million promotional “Shrek” drinking glasses because the paint contained cadmium, a toxic metal; last month, an Associated Press investigation found many more kinds of glasses are unsafe too. In the past three years, more than 17 million toys have been recalled due to lead.
Yet, according to a recent press release by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) timed to coincide with the frenzy of holiday gift-buying, the agency “wants parents and consumers to know that safeguards put in place in recent years are making a positive impact and helping to restore confidence in the safety of toys in the marketplace.” (More on Time.com: Holy Cadmium, Batman! Heavy Metals Found in Novelty Glasses…Again)
In a recent report in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology, authors Monica Becker, Sally Edwards and Rachel Massey proclaim a “toxic toys crisis” and call for the U.S. to ban or restrict the use of toxic substances in toys and other children’s products.
“Until significant changes in policy and practice occur, consumers cannot be confident that products they purchase for children are safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable,” they write. (More on Time.com: No Vegetable, No Toy: San Francisco Mimics Parents Everywhere)
The safeguards that the CPSC says are helping shape up the toy include requiring the lowest lead content and lead paint limits in the world, restricting certain phthalates and coordinating with Customs and Border Protection to track foreign toy shipments and hopefully discover unsafe products before they’re distributed to stores. Together with tougher standards imposed by toy makers and sellers, the agency claims that the safeguards have helped lower the number of recalls to 44 in fiscal year 2010 (the number of recalls does not reflect the actual number of units involved), a slight decline from 50 recalls in 2009 and 172 recalls in 2008. Deaths related to toys also decreased, to 12 in 2009 from double that number in the previous two years. (Riding toys — trikes and powered and unpowered riding toys — were linked to seven of the deaths.)
Now for what they consider the bad news: Toy-related injuries are on the rise. Last year, 186,000 toy-associated injuries to kids under 15 required emergency room treatment, up from 152,000 injuries in 2005. The injuries often involved cuts and bruises to the face and head. (More on Time.com: Got Toys? Fisher-Price Just Recalled 10 Million; Check if Yours Are Safe)
To help gift-givers figure out how to avoid purchasing toys that might result in harm and not happiness, the CPSC advises consumers to take the following steps:
* choose age-appropriate toys
*include helmets when buying ride-on toys, including skates and scooters
*supervise play areas: don’t let young kids use ride-on toys near traffic or pools
*avoid small balls and toys with tiny parts for kids younger than 3
*keep deflated balloons away from young kids
*steer clear of toys containing small magnets for kids under 6
*don’t forget to immediately trash plastic wrapping from unwrapped toys