Report: Consumer Protection

Trouble In Toyland 2001

The 2001 PIRG Survey Of Potential Toy Hazards Found In Stores
Released by: U.S. PIRG

This 2001 Trouble In Toyland report is the sixteenth annual PIRG toy safety survey. PIRG uses results from its survey to educate parents about toy hazards and to advocate passage of stronger laws and regulations to protect children from toy hazards. Since 1986 our surveys have led to over 100 enforcement actions by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and toy manufacturers.

In particular, PIRG focuses on choking, the leading cause of toy deaths. Our study found that many hazards posed by toys still exist. We found examples of these hazards on store shelves. Despite the implementation of the 1994 Child Safety Protection Act, publicity from PIRG, other groups and the media and intensified efforts by the Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC") and the U.S. Customs Service, the number of deaths from toys in 2000 remained the same as in 1999, while the number of injuries increased due primarily to scooter related injuries. PIRG researchers found many examples of labeling violations this year. Overall, we commend most manufacturers for complying with toy safety standards.

This report also focuses on the hazards posed by toxic chemicals contained in children's toys, such as nail polish containing toluene and teething toys intended for children under three years old. Many soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic toys, including teething toys, contain chemicals called phthalates - which are probable human carcinogens and known to cause chronic health effects including liver and kidney abnormalities. 

This year we identified loud toys that pose hearing loss hazards, toys without manufacturer information, and deaths and injuries associated with scooters, which have significantly increased this year. We also conducted a survey of online toy retailers, finding that not one online retailer posts statutory choke hazard warning labels, legally required to appear on toys sold in stores, on their web sites. We found that three out of 44 web sites post various forms of non-statutory labeling, but even these are not consistently displayed.


Toy manufacturers and retailers fail to label unwrapped small toys or toys containing small parts within bins. They also fail to label bins that contain unlabeled unpackaged toys that pose choke hazards, as required by law.

Balloons continue to be manufactured and marketed in shapes and colors that are attractive to very young children and continue to be sold unlabeled in bins that are accessible to children.

Toy manufacturers make toys that may pose choke hazards, as they barely pass the small parts ban test designed to protect children under three.

Independent tests have shown that many plastic toys, including common teething toys, contain as much as 40% by weight of toxic phthalates, which may leach into children's bodies. The chemicals are probable human carcinogens and have been shown to have some of the characteristics of "endocrine disrupters" - chemicals that cause reproductive abnormalities.

A PIRG study of Internet toy retailers found that no online toy retailers displays the CSPA statutory choke hazard warning label, legally required on product packaging sold in stores. We found that three, or 7% of the online retailers we analyzed post various forms of non-statutory warnings, but that none of them even display these warnings consistently. Our study also found that 66% of the web sites analyzed post toys in inappropriate age categories.

A PIRG study found that 75% of all toy recalls by the CPSC from 1974 to 2001 were due to choking and aspiration hazards.

Toy manufacturers are over-labeling toys by placing choke hazard warnings on toys that do not contain small parts. We are concerned that this will water down the meaning of the labels and render the labels less useful to parents.

Too many toys do not have manufacturer information on them, making it difficult for consumers and government officials to identify and recall unsafe products. 

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