Business News: What to avoid to keep your kids alive this holiday season


Happy holidays! Ready to shop for the kids and grandkids? Hmph. Neither are we. But we adjust our reindeer antlers, “ho ho ho” merrily, and dutifully avoid the toys that might sicken or kill them.

The California Public Interest Research Group released its 37th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report last week , and was able to buy dozens of recalled toys online easily, including Army Action Figure Playsets by Blue Panda (excessive levels of toxic phthalates and lead), Aflac Plush Promotional Ducks by Communicorp (toxic phthalates), Activity Loops by The Manhattan Toy Co. (tubes can detach and release plastic pieces that little kids can choke on), Blue’s Clues Foot to Floor Ride-on Toys by Huffy Corp (the ride-on toy can tip forward with a young child atop) and way too many others.

“Recalled toys can still be purchased — often brand new — days, weeks and sometimes years after they’ve been deemed dangerous,” said Sander Kushen, state advocate with CALPIRG and CALPIRG Education Fund. “About 200,000 children go to an emergency room each year because of toy-related injuries and illnesses, which is declining slightly but still unacceptable. And that doesn’t count injuries that didn’t require trips to the ER.”

PIRG Education Fund purchased and received more than 30 recalled toys from U.S.-based online sellers in October, including Facebook Marketplace and eBay, as well as several online toy shops. “It’s notable that with every toy we shopped for, we did keyword searches on Amazon and were not able to find any of the recalled items for sale,” the report said.

The toys were recalled for posing choking hazards and laceration risk and potential poisoning, the report said. Yet there are many toys and related items that aren’t recalled but still pose grave dangers, especially to small children.

Button batteries

Those shiny button batteries found in key fobs and remote controls and even toys themselves are among them.

Emergency room visits for swallowed button batteries have doubled over a decade, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

An employee holds battery button cells in the factory of German battery manufacturer Varta in Noerdlingen, southern Germany, on July 20, 2020. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
An employee holds battery button cells in the factory of German battery manufacturer Varta in Noerdlingen, southern Germany, on July 20, 2020. (Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

“It’s shocking that in 2019, children 5 or younger ingested 1,843 button cell batteries, with 1,502 of those requiring medical care, according to the National Capital Poison Center,” the report says.

“These batteries are a threat to older children, too. CPSC data show that for a seven-month period in 2020, injuries related to batteries increased by 93 percent for children ages 5 to 9 compared with the year before.”

If a child swallows a button cell or coin cell battery, it can cause serious tissue burns that can expand even after the battery is removed, the report said. Several children have even died.

Fakes and hacks

Counterfeit toys remain a big issue. They don’t necessarily meet mandatory U.S. safety standards, may contain nasty chemicals, are often low-quality and can cause injury.

“If a product was difficult to find a couple of weeks ago, then you’re online and find it and it’s much cheaper, you should do more investigating to figure out if it’s counterfeit,” Kushen said.

There are also privacy concerns. Some Internet and Bluetooth-connected toys can be easily hacked, with ne’er-do-wells eavesdropping on your tykes and or broadcasting messages right to their little ears.

Weird: In 2017, an unsecured Bluetooth connection on the microphone-equipped My Friend Cayla doll transformed the doll into a communication device. Smartphones automatically recognized the doll as a regular hands-free headset.

Creepy: In 2021, PIRG found a similar security problem with The Singing Machine, a Bluetooth karaoke microphone. Researchers connected to it from outside a home, at about 30 feet away. “A bad actor could connect to the device and play anything from an explicit song to a voice recording telling a child to come outside,” the report said.

Screen shot of Sander Kushen, state advocate for CALPIRG and CALPIRG Education Fund, showing magnets during “Trouble in Toyland” press conference on Nov. 17

Magnets

Magnets are an ongoing headache. They can be swallowed and cause havoc by sticking together through the walls of a kid’s intestines. It’s not just little kids at risk here: Teens use magnets to feign lip and tongue piercings.

“(I)f two or more magnets are swallowed, they can connect and pinch internal tissue together and cause serious issues such as intestinal blockage or blood poisoning,” the report said.

Yikes! Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, relatives and friends who want to spoil the munchkins need to pay attention, do their research and keep watch, CalPIRG said.

When a child gets a new toy, a parent should inspect the toy thoroughly, said Dr. Jerri Rose of UH-Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland in a prepared statement. Are there small parts that can break off and wind up in a kid’s mouth or expose sharp parts that can cut them? Is the toy approved for your child’s age group? Is it labeled non-toxic? If it’s electric, is it UL-approved? If there are batteries, especially button batteries, are the compartments secure enough to withstand the lock-picking tendencies of tykes?

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