Toxic exposure. Biting dolls. High-powered magnets capable of obstructing or tearing through parts of the human body from the inside. Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), better known as the “date rape drug.”
They could all be in your child’s toy box.
Each year, the United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) recalls hundreds of dangerous products in its quest to protect consumers. Children’s products, such as toys and baby furniture, are recalled at an alarming average rate of twice per week, non-profit organization Kids in Danger reported – and this is just one of the more than 15,000 categories of products that this government agency regulates.
As a responsible parent, you know to read and follow age guides on toys and watch your children during playtime. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough to keep your child safe – and that’s why the government steps in to stop defective products from endangering your family. Photo Credit: Flickr.
Though we hear about products being recalled just about every day, the consumer product recall process remains a mystery to many Americans. We assume that the items we purchase off of store shelves have been regulated and proven safe before they ever make it into our shopping carts, much less our homes. Yet the CPSC itself reports that the injuries, deaths, and property damage caused by hazardous consumer products add up to a whopping $900,000,000,000 a year.
We Are Not As Safe As We Think We Are
Defective products aren’t part of some new trend, but instead a tragic continuation of more than a half-century of manufacturing dangerous products. Consider the following:
- Hammocks capable of strangling infants: Though specifically designed for babies, these products killed a dozen infants between 1984 and 1995 and injured many others.
A key problem with some mini hammocks is that they didn’t have spreader bars to keep the ropes from collapsing and tangling, potentially strangling babies. Photo Credit: Flickr.
- Baby boats that could cause your child to drown: A number of these inflatable floats manufactured from 2002 through 2008 could tear and send helpless infants plunging into the water. The CPSC received 31 complaints of such instances in which babies could have drowned (thankfully, none did). In October 2012, the manufacturer officially agreed to pay $650,000 in fines for failing to adequately inform the CPSC of the incidents – it turns out that the company knew of the danger for years but continued to produce and market the hazardous product to unsuspecting families across America. “Aqua-Leisure was aware of at least 24 consumer complaints regarding several models of inflatable baby boats since the 2001 recall but did not adequately inform the CPSC until May 2009,” the CPSC report stated.
While it’s lucky that no infants actually drowned as a result of dangerous baby boats, it is simply inexcusable for companies like Aqua-Leisure to continue endangering children after they become aware of the problem. Photo Credit: Flickr.
- Poisonous toys: When tested, various toys from card games to action figures contained high levels of toxic chemicals, such as lead. A 1951 science kit called the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab even included uranium, a substance known to be toxic, according to the Banned Toys Museum.
Toys aren’t made from lead anymore, like this soldier, but your child’s toys may still contain unsafely high levels of these toxic chemicals. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Aggressive dolls: Doll attacks aren’t just for horror movies. In the mid-90’s, the beloved Cabbage Patch Kids made one Snacktime Doll that took a bite out of children’s fingers. The doll’s motorized mouth, which would theoretically allow it to “chew” plastic snacks, had no off switch. When young, inquisitive children put their fingers too close to the doll’s mouth, or if an older child accidentally got his or her hair too close to the opening, the doll could chew hard enough to rip hair out of a child’s scalp or injure fingers. In 1997, the manufacturer, Mattel, voluntarily recalled the toy and offered full refunds to any of the 500,000 consumers who owned the doll, the CPSC reported. Soon after, another dangerous doll was recalled. The flying Sky Dancer dolls made by Galoob Toys and Hasbro caused 150 reported injuries, such as broken teeth, facial cuts severe enough to require stitches, eye injuries, and one concussion. In June 2000, the CPSC announced that the manufacturer was recalling 8,900,000 of the toys.
Cabbage Patch Kids have long been favorite toys. Some have even been handed down through generations. The problems with the Snacktime Kids dolls show that even companies with good reputations may sometimes fail to anticipate safety hazards. Photo Credit: Flickr.
- Magnets that can cause deadly internal damage: A couple little magnets can be a big deal inside the human body. The CPSC has repeatedly been forced to issue recalls on toys containing magnets. “If two or more magnets are swallowed, they can link together inside a child’s intestines and clamp onto body tissues, causing intestinal obstructions, perforations, sepsis, and death,” reported the CPSC. “Internal injury from magnets can pose serious lifelong health effects.”
- Toxic when wet: Watching your apparently healthy child get dizzy, vomit, and then slip into a coma, requiring immediate hospital care, has to be one of the most terrifying experiences a parent can imagine. In the case of some children who suffered these injuries in 2007, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) was the culprit. A toy called Aqua Dots, essentially a youngster’s craft project kit, was designed for use while wet. Unfortunately, chemicals used to make the product would become GHB if they were swallowed (which has been known to happen with young children). Due to its memory loss-inducing effects and ability to cause unconsciousness, GHB earned a reputation as a date rape drug, according to CNN. It’s so toxic that two children whose families reported severe illnesses had to be hospitalized after swallowing the beads and suffering a coma. In November 2007, the CPSC announced that the manufacturer was recalling 4,200,000 of the kits.
Because really, why shouldn’t we expect our children’s toys to be contaminated by toxic substances that criminals use to commit horrible crimes? Photo Credit: Flickr.
These are only a handful of the most shocking recalls. That a company could use substandard chemicals, as in the case of Aqua Dots, or knowingly continue to sell defective products, as is allegedly the case with Aqua-Leisure’s baby boats, is not just careless but completely unacceptable. As parents, our most essential duty is protecting our children. There are enough dangers in the world without having to worry about serious safety hazards hidden inside their toys.
How the Recall Process is Supposed to Work – and How it Actually Works
How do you think the process of manufacturing consumer products works? Do you think products are all tested exhaustively before you take them home to your family? Do you believe that products are only allowed to be on the store shelves after they have already been determined safe?
Unfortunately, no – not exactly.
“While plenty of products have turned out to be mediocre or inferior, some have malfunctioned so severely that catastrophe and disaster ensued,” wrote financial blog BillShrink.com.
While manufacturers are required to do some form of safety testing before putting a product on the market, that testing may not be as rigorous or consistent as we consumers would like it to be. “At this time, the Commission has not issued a regulation mandating the general requirements for a ‘reasonable testing program’ for all general use (non-children’s) consumer products,” the CPSC reported. It does, however, specify that children’s products should be tested by a third party. This requirement may offer our families some protection, but not nearly enough. The third-party tests make sure that the product is in compliance with existing laws and regulations, but they are not exhaustive procedures, and they often do not determine every possible problem that could occur.
Why are companies so reluctant to issue recalls, even when they see that a product is dangerous? Perhaps because the average recall cost $540,000 as of 2006 – “twice that of the average product litigation settlement,” reported legal directory HG.org. Photo Credit: Flickr.
“Sometimes a company will find a flaw in their own internal testing,” wrote Kids in Danger. “Other times, unfortunately, it is found when a child is injured or killed.” You would like to think that as soon as even one tragic injury or death occurred because of a defective consumer product, it would be taken immediately off the market.
You would be wrong. This is the reason that we see multiple cases of serious injuries and deaths for the same products. This is the reason that hazardous products linger on the shelves and put our families at risk for years.
It’s illegal for consumers to resell or attempt to resell products that have been recalled for safety hazards, like these lawn darts. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
“The CPSC has come under repeated criticism for failing to protect the public,” acknowledged political website AllGov.com. Because the federal agency is controlled by government funding, critics have argued that politics play a role in its activities. Additionally, the CPSC must strike the balance between allowing manufacturers to get away with making unsafe products and putting them out of business through overcautiousness. “In an increasingly dangerous world, the CPSC finds that it must walk a fine line when legislating safety,” according to WiseGeek.
In fact, in 2007, Illinois representative Bobby Rush pushed for “an investigative hearing on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s sluggish response to warnings about a dangerous toy that later killed a child,” the Chicago Tribune wrote. “Consumers had warned the CPSC about the dangers of the aspirin-size magnets falling out of Magnetix toys, but the agency failed to act until after the 2005 death of a suburban Seattle toddler.” In other words, the Chicago Tribune alleged that the agency acted too late.
They may look harmless enough, but these Magnetix toys killed at least one child and caused internal injuries to at least 27 others, the CPSC reported. If the magnets came detached from the blocks, as happened in 1,500 reported cases, they posed a real hazard to children who might swallow them. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
During yet another controversy in 2009, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum admitted that the federal agency “‘hasn’t been acting as quickly as it should’ on crib safety problems,” NBC News reported. In this case, too, consumers had reportedly been notifying the CPSC of the dangers of drop-side cribs for years before the agency finally took action – 110 incidents later.
Since these cases, new regulations and procedures have come into effect to help make the process of getting dangerous products off the shelf sooner rather than later with what the CPSC calls the “fast-track consumer product recall program.” In this program, “for example, procedural steps that have long been part of traditional product recall logistics are eliminated,” explained ExpertRecall.com, including “a preliminary determination investigation that can actually take several months to complete.” The new program could go a long way toward making us all safer, especially if consumers do their part by reporting incidents or suspected safety hazards to the CPSC right away.
The fast-track program “speeds up the recall process and gets more dangerous products out of people’s homes, while saving manufacturers and taxpayers time and money,” ExpertRecall.com reported. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Why Recalls Don’t Do Enough to Protect Us
All the government protection in the world can’t help us if we don’t know how to find out about the dangers.
“Government has a role in ensuring product safety,” Popular Mechanics wrote, “but the bottom line is that a recall – whether or not the product is dangerous – is useless if nobody hears about it.” Unfortunately, this is all too commonly the case. Of all consumer products recalled for safety reasons, fewer than one-third of any individual product is ever returned, reported Today by NBC News. In many cases, the number of returned recalled products is lower than 10 percent of the total items sold. “If you happen to have bought a recalled product, chances are it may still be lurking in your home,” according to Today.
An example: Almost 400 incidents, including burn injuries, were associated with furnaces recalled by the CPSC in February, 2012 – but 93 percent of those incidents took place after the recall was announced, according to TIME. This means that people either weren’t aware of the recall or chose to use the product anyway. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
This is a serious issue. Many consumer products have been on the market for years before a recall occurs. They have often been sold to hundreds of thousands, or sometimes even millions, of customers. Because the CPSC regulates so many different types of products, it is at once trying to alert Americans to dangers in such big-ticket purchases as kitchen appliances and unmemorable purchases as children’s toys that cost $10 or $20. And while most households may hold onto the documentation for their dishwashers and refrigerators, you’re probably not saving the receipt for that doll for the next ten years.
If you registered a large appliance, like the stove that was included in this 2009 product recall, for warrantee or other purposes, you may have a notice like this sent to you in the event of a recall. When it comes to everyday purchases, though, you’re on your own – which means you might not know of a safety hazard in your home. Photo Credit: Flickr.
All this means that, once a real safety concern comes to light and the CPSC thoroughly investigates it and finally convinces the manufacturing company to issue a recall, you may not even know if you have the dangerous product in your home. Your family remains vulnerable to danger with every use. You may pass the item down through the family, so that the already defective toy, baby chair, or game is becoming consistently less well-maintained (and less reliable) and endangering new victims.
Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones, and never need to know about the risks. But with the health of your children and your family at stake, is it really worth the gamble?
Protect your family by being proactive. To find out about all recalls, including consumer products, visit http://www.recalls.gov/.