Rather than spreading holiday cheer, nanny state activists apparently prefer to spread fear about toy safety. Indeed, activists are using the holiday season as a news hook to advance their big government agendas. But parents should dismiss their Grinch-styled tactics in favor of common sense, which is more helpful and doesn’t require further empowering a federal nanny.
A common theme among these scare campaigns is the idea that the toy industry is carelessly stocking shelves with dangerous toys, which activists contend demands a regulatory response. For example, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) publishes an annual report asserting that the “continued presence of hazards in toys” warrants more government action.
Yet everything in life poses a hazard. Water, for example, has the potential to produce burns, suffocation, and unexpected falls. It can even make your brain swell and kill you if you drink too much at one time.
What really matters is how people manage hazards to minimize risks, while enjoying the benefits of so-called hazardous toys or activities. So instead of letting USPIRG fill your holiday with worry, consider some basic, commonsense tips.
Tip #1: Don’t fall for the hype. Toy companies have strong incentives to promote safety, and many have stepped up to debunk unfair activist attacks. After all, harming customers is bad business, many in the industry have children too, and they must comply with stiff safety regulations. But toy companies can’t protect people from using products improperly, so parents need to play an active role, which brings us to the next tip.
Tip #2: Use common sense. Keep toys with small parts (or anything with small parts for that matter) as well as balloons and small magnets away from babies and toddlers who might swallow them. Always pay attention to warning labels regarding the appropriate age for each toy or product. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) acting chairwoman, Ann Marie Buerkle, offers some additional commonsense advice in a YouTube video.
Tip #3: Don’t freak out about trace chemicals found in plastics. USPIRG’s report focuses on plastics made with chemicals known as phthalates, but they did not find any toys that violate the very stringent federal standards for phthalates.
The CPSC sets limits for these chemicals in toys based on claims that they are “hormonally active,” a claim that raises the concern that these chemicals might impact the human endocrine system and produce adverse health effects. Alleged health effects include everything from learning disabilities to cancer, yet there is no hard evidence showing that these effects have ever actually occurred from use of these chemicals in plastics.
In fact, research shows that these chemicals are too weak, and exposure is too low, to impact human health. In a review of the science, researchers pointed out in the journal Toxicology Letters that despite “20 years of research” the claim that endocrine disrupters from trace exposure to manmade chemicals—such as phthalates in consumer products—“remains an unproven and unlikely hypothesis.” Indeed, humans safely consume much higher and more potent amounts of such hormonally active chemicals that naturally form in healthy foods, such as soy, beans, and corn. These levels are tens of thousands of times higher and more potent than such chemicals found in plastics, but they also pose little risk.
Tip #4: Remember that it’s the dose that makes the poison. Some substances are dangerous at high levels but pose low risks at low exposures. Lead is an example. It’s clearly dangerous for children to consume high levels of lead, and most significant lead risks today come from old peeling lead paint, which was banned in 1978.
There are also some rare but important examples of lead poisoning from other sources, such as a 2006 case in which a child died after swallowing a metal charm that was composed of nearly 100 percent lead. The charm was not a toy, and its high lead content resulted from an awful manufacturing error.
This horrible situation is not analogous to toys that meet federal regulations, which limit lead in toys to no more than 100 parts per million (ppm). USPIRG did not find any toys in violation of this guideline, but instead the group flagged certain fidget spinners that are not subject to these regulations because they are labeled for people 14 years or older.
Still, USPIRG insists that these devices are basically toys, and the group tested some and found lead levels above the regulation for toys. In one case, part of one spinner contained lead at 33,000 ppm. That sounds scary given the federal standard for toys, but remember, that means that 96.7 percent of that metal was still lead free. It does not warrant panic.
It’s unlikely that any child could swallow one of these spinners, unless it breaks into pieces. But of course, if you follow tip #2, they won’t have an opportunity to even try.
Even Santa’s elves couldn’t make “risk-free” toys, but risks are certainly low enough to manage. So rather than let nanny state activists spoil your holiday, read labels and use your own good judgment to keep risks low and happiness high.