‘Trouble in Toyland': Advocacy Group Warns of Dangerous Toys

Fidget spinners, improperly labeled balloons and a data-collecting doll are some of the products deemed "dangerous" by the group

There is still "Trouble in Toyland," according to a group that warns parents each year around the holidays of toys it says can be dangerous to children. 

Five categories of toys, including certain fidget spinners and data-collecting dolls, have been deemed potentially hazardous in this year’s U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund’s 32nd annual “Trouble in Toyland” report.

“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, toy buyers need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for children’s presents,” said Dev Gowda, toxics advocate with the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

Hazards associated with the products in this year’s report include excessive levels of lead, choking and privacy concerns. 

The Toy Association, a not-for-profit trade association representing businesses that make and deliver toys, said the report is not helpful.

“PIRG does this every year at this time and we find that it’s needlessly confusing and alarming to consumers at a time when it’s supposed to be a joyous time of the year,” Joan Lawrence, the Toy Association’s senior vice president of safety standards and regulatory affairs, told NBC.

She said that many of the items that PIRG lists in their annual reports are not even toys, including balloons, which she said are party decorations, and fidget spinners. 

“There are positive things we can do to ensure safety and the industry does those all year long,” Lawrence said. “But PIRG comes along in November and doesn’t bring anything positive. They bring a scary message. And the industry actually works year-round on toy safety. We continually look at new products that are invented and we look at the way kids are using them and we look at ways the standards may need to be updated.”

Lawrence said PIRG has repeatedly been invited to join in on this process and has refused, saying they don’t have the resources.

Here are the products that PIRG warns parents to watch out for this year:

Lead in fidget spinners
Lab tests found “excessive levels of lead” in two models of fidget spinners, PIRG's report said. The Fidget Wild Premium Spinner in Brass was found to contain 33,000 parts per million (ppm) of lead in its center circle and 22,000 ppm of lead in its arm. Children’s products must not contain more than 100 ppm of total lead content in accessible parts, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Target has removed the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner in Brass and Metal from its store shelves and its online store following a request by PIRG.

The CPSC, Target and the toy’s manufacturer should recall the two fidget spinners, PIRG said.

“Even small amounts of lead in toys can be ingested when transferred from fingers to mouth or from fingers to food,” said national lead expert Helen Binns, a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, according to the report. “Lead harms the developing brain and is easily ingested through normal hand to mouth behaviors. Beware of these two fidget spinners, as they have dangerous amounts of lead.” 

A spokesman for Bulls I Toy, the company that manufactures the fidget spinners, did not directly address the lead levels in the toys.

“Safety is one of our top priorities,” Harold Chizick told NBC. “All of our product are tested and comply with CPSC safety standards.”

A spokesperson for Target said the matter is closed from Target’s perspective. 

Target pulled the fidget spinners voluntarily based on the concerns raised even though the products complied with CPSC guidelines, Jenna Reck told NBC. Target is working with their vendors to ensure all fidget spinners carried at Target meet CPSC guidelines for children's products, she said.

If customers have purchased either of the fidget spinners and would like to return them at a Target store, they will receive a full refund.

Data-collecting toys
Every year, toymakers introduce more toys with internet and data collection capabilities. A doll called “My Friend Cayla,” which can be found at stores such as Wal-Mart and Kohl’s, is on the naughty toy list this year for privacy concerns. The doll was banned in Germany for privacy violations and several consumer groups have said it may violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

NBC reached out for a comment from Genesis Toys, which manufactures the doll, but had not yet received a response. 

Small parts
The CPSC bans small parts in toys for children under age 3, but PIRG says they found several toys that have small parts but no warning labels at all, including a peg game, golf and football travel games found at Dollar Tree.

Balloons are dangerous for children because they are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats, according to the report.

PIRG found five types of balloons that it says have inadequate labeling, including H20 Blasters Water Balloons and Disney Princess Punchball Balloons sold at Dollar Tree, Mega Value Pack 12 Water Bomb Packs and Mega Value Pack 14 Latex Punch Balloons found at Party City, and Party Balloons - 10 from Dollar City Plus.

These products "are either marketed to children under eight or have misleading warning labels that make it appear that they are safe for children between ages 3 and 8," the report says.

About 39 percent of all toy-related choking deaths involve balloons, according to the CPSC.

NBC reached out to Dollar Tree for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

"Even though many hoverboards have been taken off store shelves over the past year, they continue to pose dangers to children," the report said.

The report did not name any specific hoverboard products but said that "numerous hoverboards continue to be recalled by the CPSC for faulty battery packs."

Recommendations for parents
The report recommended parents take certain steps to protect their children from unsafe products, including putting small parts out of reach, reporting unsafe toys and toy-related injuries to the CPSC, and subscribing to email recall updates from government safety agencies.

PIRG also updated a list of toys recalled by the CPSC between October, 2017 and October, 2017, which includes certain models of toddler swings, plush toys and scooters.

The complete "Trouble in Toyland" report can be found here

More safety tips for parents can be found on the Toy Association's website,

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