Question of the Week
December 13, 2004


This time of year, many people are buying toys for friends, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and children of all ages.

"Making the right toy selection for a child can be easy when parents are armed with the right knowledge. Each year, more than 3 billion toys and games are sold in the United States and more than half are purchased during the holiday season. However, in 2002 alone, an estimated 165,200 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Although the majority of toys are safe, some can become dangerous if used incorrectly or if they end up with a child that is too young for a specific gift."

Nobody wants to give a gift that causes one of these emergency room visits, and no one wants to spend the holidays in an ER. With that in mind, please note:

"CPSC [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission] has reports of 11 toy-related deaths involving children under age 15 that occurred in 2003. The toys involved in these fatal incidents were as follows... Victims of the 11 fatal incidents ranged in age from 4 months to 9 years old.... Ten deaths occurred where the child choked on or aspirated a toy. The toys involved in these fatal incidents were 5 toy balls, 3 balloons, 1 game piece, and 1 toy bead. These children ranged in age from 12 months to 9 years old.... There was 1 fatality of a 4-month-old associated with positional asphyxia, involving the closure of the child's airway by a stuffed toy.... In 2003 there were an estimated 206,500 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. ... Seventy-five percent (155,400) of the injuries for 2003 were to children under 15 years of age and 34 percent (71,200) were to children under 5. Twenty-five percent (51,100) of the injuries were to persons age 15 and up."

With over 50,000 emergency room visits in 2003, people over the age of 15 need to be careful, as well. It is not just the younger children that get hurt (though the majority of the injuries were in this age range). Whether you are under the age of 15 or over, you will likely be buying toys this month (if you haven't already). Whether it is a gift for someone younger, or you are getting something for yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

"Follow Age Recommendations When Selecting Toys.
Many toy-related injuries occur when parents overestimate their child's ability to handle a toy designed for an older age group...."

More specifically,

"Whenever buying a new toy, always read labels to make sure the toy is appropriate for your child's age. You may think that because your child seems mature for his or her age, he or she can handle a toy that was meant for an older child. However, you're not doing your child a favor by buying a toy for an advanced age group. Remember, the age-appropriate level for a toy is determined by safety factors. Always look for toys that appear to be well constructed and that clearly include age recommendations on the labels. Toys made of fabric should be labeled as flame resistant or flame retardant. Stuffed toys should be washable. All toys should be painted with lead-free paint, and art materials (including crayons) should say nontoxic somewhere on their packaging. Also, if a new toy is shrink-wrapped, be sure to immediately discard the plastic wrapping after opening the toy for the first time. Small children, especially toddlers, may look at plastic wrap as something new and fun to play with and put it into their mouths and choke. Holiday gift wrapping, ribbons, and bows can be hazards as well. Federal law bans using small parts in new toys for children younger than 3, and those for kids younger than 8 are supposed to be free of sharp glass and metal edges. But be aware that older toys (like hand-me-downs or toys purchased used) may include sharp edges, break into jagged pieces, or break into parts small enough to be swallowed by a child."

It's not just the new toys you buy in stores, it can also include those toys you find in grandma's closet as you visit over the holidays.... Or those toys that have been in the family for years... Or the toys your parents played with and passed down to you... Maybe even that great find at a second-hand store or garage sale... Or that great deal found online at an auction site... While an old toy may look safe, it may have hidden dangers that you would never think to check--since the dangers have not been an issue during your lifetime. Your parents may not even remember some of the issues from so long ago...

September 2, 1977...
WASHINGI'ON, D.C. (Sept. 2) -- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has culminated a major regulatory proceeding by issuing a final ban on lead-containing paint and on toys and furniture coated with such paint. This action was taken to reduce the risk of lead poisoning in children who may ingest paint chips or peelings."

Are you concerned about an old toy? While there is not a list of every toy that ever contained lead paint, the CPSC does have recall notices dating back over 30 years.

February 25, 1974...
WASHINGTON, D.C.(Feb. 25) --The Consumer Product Safety Commission today urged purchasers of a particular toy chest to return the chests to the retailer where they were purchased for a full refund.... action came after the chests were reportedly associated with the death of one child and serious injury to another in separate incidents. The accidents apparently resulted from the children's heads being caught between the front of the case and the top of the chest."

But what about today? What about current recalls? While toys are tested and expected to be safe when they are put on the market, there are times when the manufacturer hears of a possible problem. In the best cases, the toy is pulled from the shelves and refunds are offered after one concern and no injuries.

October 21, 2004...
Name of product: Earlyears® Spirolly Rattle...
Hazard: The spiral section of the rattle can come apart, releasing small balls inside. This can pose a choking hazard to young children. Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received one report of the spiral section of the toy coming apart. No injuries have been reported."

While choking is a major concern, it is not just baby toys that are affected by recalls and dangers. Toys for older kids have faster moving parts and sharper edges; these can cause injuries, as well...

September 9, 2004...
Name of product: Super Soaker Monster Rocket...
Hazard: The cap on the water tank can unexpectedly and forcibly project off when it is quickly unscrewed from the tank, posing a risk of impact injuries to users or bystanders. In addition, the rocket's tail can strike a user or bystander on descent, if the rocket is not fully launched, posing a risk of injury. Incidents/Injuries: Hasbro has received four reports of the cap being unexpectedly projected off the rocket, resulting in three injuries, including a slight concussion and a cut requiring
stitches. Additionally, Hasbro has received four reports of children being struck by the descending rocket, including three cuts that required stitches."

For a list of all toy recalls on the CPSC website from 1974-current, you can visit:

Toys aren't recalled if no one knows there is a problem with them. Do you have a concern about a toy (or another consumer product) to report?

"By filling out the form [found at the link] below and then submitting it, you can report any injury or death involving consumer products to [CPSC], or report an unsafe product to [CPSC].... You can also report an incident or unsafe product by calling toll-free at 1-800-638-2772 or by sending an e-mail to

Questions of the Week:
How could this additional information affect how someone shops for toys throughout the year? Explain why you would (or would not) make changes to your shopping habits knowing what you know now? Beyond shopping, how could this information affect the choices you make when playing with toys (whether babysitting, visiting relatives, or hanging out with friends). Explain why you would (or would not) change how you play knowing what you know now? If you have found a product to be dangerous (or potentially dangerous), what can you do?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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