Report warns of counterfeit and dangerous toys

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Image courtesy MassPIRG Education Fund

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A Massachusetts consumer safety organization is warning consumers about toys that could be counterfeit and dangerous to children.

The MassPIRG Education Fund issued its 36th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report Thursday morning that exposes the risks of counterfeit, recalled, and hazardous toys. According to the report, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recalled 13 toys so far in 2021, and emergency rooms nationwide treated nearly 200,000 toy related injuries in 2020. MASSPIRG Education Fund researchers found two additional recalled products, a hoverboard and a children’s watch accessory, that many would consider toys. The recalled toys posed risks including high levels of lead, potential ingestion by a child and small parts from easily broken toys.

It’s not always easy to determine if a toy is safe or not, especially online, when you can’t inspect the item and it may be mislabeled, or missing a warning, such as a recall notice.

“Fake products sold by unreputable sellers have the potential to be unsafe, because they are unlikely to comply with strict product safety laws,” said Ed Desmond, executive vice president of The Toy Association, a not-for-profit trade organization. He said reputable companies test their products for compliance with more than 100 different safety standards and tests required by law. “These counterfeit toys might have small parts that can break off, may not be age-graded appropriately, or may pose other risks to children.” 

Here are the main categories in this year’s report:

  • Knockoff toys on the market: Knockoffs used to be found on a street vendor’s table. Nowadays, knockoffs and counterfeit toys can be bought online, often from overseas, where manufacturers don’t always follow U.S. regulations. Researchers identified knockoff toys on the marketplace and the safety concerns they can pose to children. Read the tips guide to learn how to avoid counterfeit toys.
  • Second-hand toys: People often sell their used goods online without checking to see whether they have been recalled. That can be a big problem when it comes to toys. Previously recalled toys were found for sale on eBay. 
  • Choking hazards: Researchers found discrepancies between website descriptions and warning labels for toys with small parts. Toys advertised for “age 2” had small parts that are unsafe for children under the age of 3. 
  • Noisy toys: Noisy toys are not only a nuisance in the home, but also at risk to children’s hearing. Toy researchers identified five noisy toys and tested the noise levels replicating how a child would use the toy. 
  • Smart toys: The report identified privacy issues concerning smart toys looking at three categories: cameras and recording devices built into toys, unsecure mobile apps used to control toys and personalized online accounts that store data specifically about the toy and the toy user. 

The Toy Association contacted 22News and supplied the following statement in response to the U.S. PIRG 2021 Trouble in Toyland Report:

U.S. PIRG’s report fails to mention that U.S. toy safety requirements are among the strictest in the world. All toys sold in the United States, no matter where they are produced, must conform to rigorous safety standards and laws.

These safety requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • A highly effective small parts regulation that was adopted internationally and has on multiple occasions been reviewed by doctors and other specialists, and found to be appropriately protective
  • A longstanding federal law that requires batteries in toys for young children to be kept inaccessible
  • Strict standards prohibiting the use of strong magnets in any toy part that is small enough to be swallowed
  • Internationally emulated limits on sound level output (which are not appropriately applied by PIRG in their analysis of sound levels in toys)

Misleading information in PIRG’s report includes:

  • The inclusion of many items that have been voluntarily recalled or discontinued by companies and are no longer available for purchase from legitimate sellers. The toy industry has a remarkable record of producing safe product – typically, only 0.003 percent of the three billion toys sold in the U.S. each year are recalled. Nonetheless, recalls remain a critical safety net that is part of a robust system designed to keep children safe.
  • The inclusion of several items that are not toys, thus undermining the toy industry’s deep and ongoing commitment to safety. These non-toy items include adult magnets, latex balloons, gaming consoles, and batteries found in household products, all of which are not subject to the same rigorous standards as toys.
  • Misleading claims about the safety of Internet-connected toys, naming product issues dating back several years; including discontinued and non-toy products as examples; and failing to underscore current FTC guidance that subjects internet-connect children’s products to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) (which includes provisions governing both privacy and data security)

The Toy Association agrees that counterfeit toys lurking online have the potential to be unsafe and should be avoided at all costs. The Toy Association continues to urge parents to shop only from reputable brands and sellers, whether in stores or online, whose toys comply with over 100 different safety standards and tests required by law.

Parents are also advised to check and follow the age-grading on toy packaging. Toys labeled 3+ may contain small parts that can be a choking hazard for children under three. Parents should use a federally-approved Small Parts Tester (available online) to test small objects found around the home – not a toilet paper roll (as PIRG suggests). And if there is no age label on the packaging or in the online description, it is not a legitimate toy (or it is not a product intended for children under 12) and it should not be given to a child.

Safety is the toy industry’s top priority every day of the year. For more safety tips, visit www.PlaySafe.org.

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