The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalls millions of toys every year but is stretched too thin to guard against all dangers. In the face of such risks, parents have come to rely on consumer groups for warnings and the civil justice system as an enforcement mechanism against negligent corporations. Here are the ten most dangerous toys of all time:
1. CSI: Asbestos
The CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit – a toy based on the hit CBS show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – allowed children to look for fingerprints with a special powder and brushes. The powder in question turned out to contain up to five percent asbestos. The alarm was sounded in November 2007, but the toy’s maker, CBS Consumer Products, decided to leave it on shelves in the run up to Christmas. Rather than wait for the CPSC to negotiate a recall, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization filed a civil action to stop sales of the kit.
Magnetix building sets featured plastic pieces that could break open, spilling small, powerful magnets that were easily swallowed by curious toddlers. Unlike most small objects swallowed in this manner, the magnets don’t pass through the digestive system. Instead they connect with each other through tissue walls, sometimes forming large masses that twist intestines and cut off blood supply to vital organs. The result can be a painful death within hours. In 2005, when 22-month old Kenny Sweet died after 9 tiny magnets reattached inside his bowels, Magnetix manufacturer Mega Bloks released a statement saying it had “no record or knowledge of a similar occurrence involving this toy.” In fact, the company had received several complaints of magnets falling out of the plastic pieces and knew of at least one case in which a 10-year-old had suffered life-threatening intestinal injuries. Three million Magnetix sets sat on store shelves for four months after Kenny Sweet’s death. When they were finally recalled in 2006, at least 34 more children were known to have been injured. Mega Bloks rebranded the toy MagNext in 2008.
3. Inflatable Baby Boats
Aqua-Leisure’s various Inflatable Baby Boat were supposed to be a fun way for a baby or toddler to float safely in a pool. The problem was the boats’ leg straps were prone to tear, causing the baby or toddler in question to slip through. In 2009, four million of the boats were recalled after more than 30 infants nearly drowned. It turned out, Aqua-Leisure had been aware of the problem for at least six years and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ultimately fined the company $650,000.
4. Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Game
After arsenic, lead is the second-most deadly household toxin in existence. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no toy contain more than 40 parts per million lead. Which is why it was so alarming when lab tests revealed The Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Game contained lead at 75 times that level – a whopping 3,000 parts per million. Hanna Montana wasn’t the only toxic sensation in 2007. One study found that 35 percent of all toys on the shelves contained high levels of lead, and nearly 5 percent contained arsenic or toxic cadmium. By year’s end there had been 42 recalls involving 6 million toys for excessive lead levels. But Hanna Montana stayed on shelves because the lead was found in its vinyl, not in paint, and thus was not covered by regulations.
5. Aqua Dots (aka Date Rape Drugs)
One of 2007’s more popular toys, Aqua Dots were small, colorful beads that could be arranged into different designs and then permanently set with a sprinkle of water. The water activated a glue in the coating of the beads, which fused them together. Innocent enough, but reports surfaced almost immediately of children vomiting and lapsing into comas after swallowing the beads. Why? Because scientists discovered that the glue contained chemicals that metabolized into gamma-hydroxybutyrate, otherwise known as GHB – the date rape drug. The toy’s makers, Canadian-based Spin Master and Australian based Moose Enterprises, blamed Chinese subcontractors, before eventually agreeing to recall all 4.2 million Aqua Dots kits. The following year Spin Master rebranded Aqua Dots as “Pixos” and they remain on shelves to this day.
6. Snacktime Cabbage Patch Doll
The Cabbage Patch dolls were the must-have toy of their time, sparking department store fights and pulling in billions of dollars in sales. The Snacktime edition pulled in more than just money however, as its mechanical jaws tried to consume the fingers and hair of inquisitive and unlucky children. The Snacktime’s mechanism was a one-way battery-powered roller with no off switch. It was supposed to be activated by the accompanying snacks, but the little tykes made no distinction between “food” and fingers. The dolls were eventually pulled from the shelves… after the Christmas season.
7. Mini Hammocks
You know that scene in the movies when an unsuspecting individual steps on an apparently innocuous cargo net, only to be hoisted into the air by what turned out to be a trap? Someone decided to market them as hammocks for kids. Ten different manufacturers eventually had to recall over 3 million mini hammocks, after at least 12 children died between 1984 and 1995, and many more were injured. The hammocks did not feature spreader bars to keep them open, resulting in a twisting mess that risked strangulation every time a kid tried to get in or out.
8. Lawn Darts
It doesn’t take much imagination to see why steel missiles with weighted skewers could make for a dangerous toy. Originally designed to pierce lawns in a game similar to horseshoes, children found different ways to use the darts. After the deaths of at least three children lawn darts were banned by the CPSC. The agency also recommended the destruction of existing sets.
9. The Austin Magic Pistol
In the 1950’s, when BB guns weren’t considered particularly dangerous, it took something special for a gun to stand out. The Austin Magic Pistol managed to do that with its gas-powered combustion. The gun used what the manufacturer called “magic crystals” made from calcium carbide – a hazardous material. When mixed with water the crystals would explode and fire a plastic ball 70 feet or more.
10. Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
Maybe you think it’s obvious that including uranium in a child’s toy isn’t an especially good idea. But apparently that never occurred to the makers of the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab. Described when it was sold in the early 1950s as "the most elaborate Atomic Energy educational set ever produced" it featured four Uranium bearing ore samples and a preformatted order form for more. Even in an age when science sets routinely came with substances like potassium nitrate (a component of gunpowder) and sodium ferrocyanide (these days classified as poison), the Atomic Energy Lab was positively glowing with danger.