Trouble in Toyland

Samantha Hurt, a Vermont Public Interest Research Group environmental associate, displays a “slime” toy, one of many toys deemed dangerous or toxic in the group’s 33rd annual “Trouble in Toyland” report.

MONTPELIER — This year’s edition of the annual Trouble in Toyland report warns about hazardous toys that are contaminated by toxic chemicals, pose choking hazards and spy on kids via the internet.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group issued the warning Tuesday, following the release of the 33rd annual survey of toy safety by the national U.S. PIRG.

In the survey, consumers are warned of a variety of potentially hazardous toys that include toxic and choking hazards. In the digital era, consumers are also warned about smart toys that connect to the internet and pose a threat to a child’s privacy, safety and security.

“The message is clear: No one should worry about whether the toy they’re buying is toxic and dangerous,” said Samantha Hurt, environmental associate with VPIRG. “But in 2018, we’re still finding hazards in some of the most popular toys.”

VPIRG is an advocacy group in Vermont that draws attention to the dangers posed for children by certain products during the holiday shopping season.

“Toy manufacturers must do better to ensure their products are safe before they end up in children’s hands or mouths. Over the last 33 years, our report has led to at least 150 recalls and other actions to get dangerous toys off store shelves,” Hurt said. “Sadly, our researchers again found potentially unsafe toys this year, only testing a small sampling of toys currently on the market.”

Hurt had a range of hazardous toys including colored slimes that tested positive for toxic levels of boron “up to 15 times higher than the European Union’s limit.”

“When ingested, even small doses of boron can cause nausea, vomiting and even long-term reproductive health issues, according to the U.S. EPA,” Hurt said.

The United States currently has no limit on boron in children’s products, Hurt said.

Hurt said there were also dangers from a familiar children’s party prop.

“While some dangers are hidden beneath the surface of the toy, others are the entire toy, like in the case of balloons and small toys that cause choking,” said Hurt, noting that latex balloons sold on Amazon had no choking hazard labels on 87 percent of listings. “Without these listings, someone may allow a child to play with an inflated balloon that may be accidentally inhaled.

“Between 2001 and 2016, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said this type of accident caused 40 percent of all reported toy-related choking fatalities,” Hurt said.

Next up in VPIRG’s warning was a report about excessively noisy toys.

“This year, we found a toy plane that our audio tests suggest may produce enough sound to cause hearing damage. It actually exceeds 85 decibels, which is the federal limit for handheld children’s toys,” Hurt said.

The digital era also sparked concerns about privacy, security and safety with toys that connect to the internet.

“We’ve seen a rapidly growing market of so-called smart toys that use the internet to provide additional functions,” Hurt said. “Unfortunately, along the way, many of these toys collect data on children, share consumer information and potentially violate the child’s privacy.”

Vigilance by parents and the need to check for safety alerts and looking for safety labels on products was important, Hurt said.

“We want to encourage parents to be diligent, even if there are not warning labels. We encourage them to go online and read our report and be prepared,” Hurt said.

There was reference to a toxic substances and hazardous materials bill that Gov. Phil Scott vetoed in the last legislative session because it would hurt business in the state.

VPIRG officials confirmed they would be pushing for reconsideration of the bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, also noted the success of the survey and report over the years.

“I think there have been dozens of toys that have been taken off the market after showing up in this report over the last 33 years,” Burns said. “We’re always finding new threats too. So, we’re always trying to be vigilant about the threats out there.”

As a parent, Burns said he had become aware of the danger of balloons to his young son.

“I now have a 7-year-old and I never thought about the choking hazard until it started showing up in this report,” Burns said.

Burns said VPIRG was simply trying to help parents shopping for children’s gifts avoid a tragic outcome.

“We’re not trying to take all the fun away from kids,” Burns said. “But if you can make a parent aware of a potential threat …. I think we’re doing our jobs as consumer advocates.”

To see the full report, visit


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