Lawn darts–one of the more memorable Christmas gifts I received as a child. My brothers and I started our first game on a small field. We tried to throw the lawn darts into a small plastic hoop a few feet away. That instantly became boring. For the second game we spaced the plastic hoops about 100 feet apart, hurled the lawn darts as high and as far as we could trying to get as close to the target as possible. The real objective was to avoid getting impaled by the top heavy metallic projectile crashing down to earth at the speed of sound.
Not all toys are created equal. Some toys are more dangerous than others. Each year the U.S. Public Interest Research Group publishes a list of unsafe toys called “Trouble in Toyland.” This year, the 23rd annual survey focused on choking hazards, dangerous small magnets and toys containing toxic substances.
Choking Hazards and Magnets
According to the report, choking is the most common cause of toy-related deaths. That being said, small toys or toys with small parts should be avoided for children under the age of 6. As a rule of thumb, if the toy or toy parts can fit inside a roll of toilet paper, then it is small.
Carefully inspect toy packaging. Manufacturers in the U.S. are required by law to label toys that could be a choking hazard to young children. Small magnets can also be swallowed and cause serious damage to the stomach or intestines. Products with small magnets should also be avoided as gifts for young children.
Lead, phthalates and bisphenol-A are three substances that can be harmful to young children and infants and are unfortunately still found in some children’s toys. It is impossible to tell by looking at a toy if it contains these substances. According to the Public Interest Research Group, your best options are to:
1. Avoid toys with PVC plastic (plastic #3), particularly soft PVC plastics. These often contain phthalates used to soften the PVC and make it more flexible.
2. Only buy baby bottles that are labeled bisphenol-A free.
3. Try to avoid inexpensive heavy metal costume jewelry, which can contain high levels of lead.
You can download the “Trouble in Toyland” report here. It lists specific toys in the report and has additional recommendations for safety toys this holiday season.
Andrew Peterson is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with over 10 years of experience working in the environmental and occupational health field. In addition to writing, he is currently the Environment, Health and Safety Manager for a medium-sized company that has been voted one of Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work and one of CRO Magazine’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens. He lives in California with his wife and adopted pound puppies.