Photo Gallery | Annual list of dangerous toys from MASSPIRG

PITTSFIELD — Despite years of advocacy on the local, regional and national levels, dangerous and toxic toys still make it to the marketplace.

MassPIRG, a state public interest research group, has been evaluating toys for 30 years now, and on Tuesday the group unveiled its latest findings at Berkshire Community College.

The toys that MassPIRG considers to be dangerous this year contain unsafe levels of phthaltes (a softener used in plastic manufacturing) or chromium, have small parts or magnets that can represent choking hazards, or have excessively high noise levels, he said.


MassPIRG found one toy that exceeded federal toxic standards, and three toys that preliminary testing shows may exceed those standards.

Although standards for toy safety are enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, items are still being manufactured, "that fail to meet safeguards," Basmajian said.

MassPIRG found three toys that contained unsafe levels of chromium: a Minions pencil case, the Slinky Jr., and a set of magnetic numbers available at discount stores, Basmajian said.

He said MassPIRG has identified several toys that contain or can be broken into small parts that might block a child's airway, including a fairy wand, a toy car and plane, a Dory figurine, a mini-vortex football, and a toy mermaid.

Small balls that are less than 1.75 inches in diameter can represent a choking hazard for youngsters age 3 and younger. Magic Towels packaged as small baseballs and footballs do not have the appropriate warning labels, Basmajian said.

Because youngsters like to put things in their mouths, Basmajian said MassPIRG is also concerned about small rounded toys that look like food. They present the same choking hazards as small balls, but have no warning labels.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group campus organizer Michael Basmajian displays items from MassPRIG’s annual list of dangerous toys in
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group campus organizer Michael Basmajian displays items from MassPRIG's annual list of dangerous toys in time for the holiday season Tuesday at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield with Reps. Gailanne Cariddi, left, and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, center. (Stephanie Zollshan — The Berkshire Eagle)

He suggested that parents test toys that may represent choking hazards in large cylinders such as toilet paper rolls.

"Last year 19 toys were recalled because of choking hazards," he said. "That was one-third of all the recalls."

Balloons are the leading cause of death among young children using unsafe toys, he said. They can easily be inhaled to inflate them and become stuck on children's throats. MassPIRG found three balloon sets on store shelves marketed to children under the age of 8.

Basmajian said parents should be vigilant about toys that contain magnets. When two or more power magnets are swallowed they can cause life threatening injuries because their attractive forces draw them together inside the body, according to MassPIRG. The organization found ellipsoid magnets that are slightly larger than the small parts cylinder that is used for testing.

The organization also found several examples of toys with high decibel levels.

"One out of seven children between the ages of 6 and 17 have signs of hearing loss," he said.

MassPIRG found no toys this year that contained excessive levels of lead, Basmajian said.

State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, was a toy buyer in her family's business for 20 years before becoming a state legislator.

"I think what surprises me is that some of these toys are from major manufacturers," said Cariddi, who attended Tuesday's event.

"It used to be years ago that it was just the cheaper-import toys that were the problem," she said. "Now we have to be especially vigilant of brand-name merchandise. Some of these toys have been around for decades."

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.

On the Web ...

MassPIRG's full list of unsafe toys, and safety tips for holiday shopping can be found at