While lead paint in toys grabs headlines these days, fueling parental nightmares and hearings on Capitol Hill, parents would be wise to worry far more about other playthings.
Over the past six years, no product caused more injuries than Leap Frog playgrounds, a toy that prior to its 2006 recall left crawling children susceptible to scrapes and bruises. The product has since been reinstated on store shelves after being deemed safe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Also, Wego Kite Tubes, an inflatable boat attachment that was yanked off the market in July after being blamed by the CPSC for 39 injuries, including reports of a broken neck and a punctured lung.
Trampolines, which have become ever more popular as updated versions do a better job standing up to weather, rate third with 36 injuries, most of them categorized as "bodily harm."
That's the word from the non-profit research group Kids in Danger, which has been tracking toy injuries and deaths among recalled products since 2001.
These statistics don't count all the recalled strollers, cribs and car seats that had tots falling, breaking bones and incurring scratches and bruises. Those products — not classified as toys — have caused hundreds of injuries during this decade.
While popular toys and games like Thomas the Tank Engine and Dora the Explorer have drawn recent attention as China-made items with lead paint problems, they haven't ranked high on the injury list in recent years.
"The lead paint issue is not a new one; kids' jewelry has been recalled for years," says Ed Swartz, founder of W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm). In other words, the issue of lead paint has developed into a more formidable political weapon since the trade imbalance with China started gaining more attention a few years ago.
Meanwhile, more children die of choking on balloons, balls, marbles and small toy accessories than anything else. The CPSC cited 166 deaths of children under 15 from those products since 1990.
Not to say lead paint isn't a serious issue. Most of the CPSC injury data is based on reports of emergency room visits, something a child who has ingested lead will usually avoid unless he or she develops an acute case of lead poisoning. Consumer groups mainly see all the recalls of lead paint products as a sign of a flaw in the import system that needs fixing.
Still, acknowledges Don Mays of the Consumers Union, "There are more serious problems than lead paint, for sure."
W.A.T.C.H warns against battery-operated toys for kids under 8 years old, given the likelihood of unsuspecting youngsters to put their mouths on products that are prone to leaking battery acid. Also, toys with fur or hair place choking risks on younger children who might swallow the portions that come loose.
Safety improvements include the outlawing of string on crib toys, while limiting string length on items classified as "pull toys" to six inches. But the rules do leave some wiggle room for toy makers, Swartz points out. Even a six-inch string could be potentially harmful to a baby in a crib, where pull toys sometimes wind up.
"If a manufacturer sells something as a 'pull toy' and not a 'crib toy' they can get away with it," he says.