Christmas Safety: When Toys Turn Hazardous

Nothing quite signals that the holiday season is here like being blasted by every website or email we open about the latest and greatest new toys for the children in our lives. This holiday season, I’ll be buying toys for kids of ages ranging from four months to fifteen years. As a parent and a consumer, I have confidence that the products to be wrapped and given on Christmas will be safe for my family and ready for hours of enjoyment. Right? Maybe. Unfortunately, there is a long naughty list of toys over the decades that have missed the mark for safety in extreme ways. 

One toy that comes to mind when we ask, “What were they thinking?” when marketing a product to children is Lawn Darts. Modeled after a weapon of ancient warfare, the game was to throw a weighted javelin-like dart aiming for a plastic circle. Marketing began in the 1950s, and the initial ban on this toy was passed in 1970 due to numerous reports of concussions, puncture wounds, and death in children. My dad laughs nowadays when he tells of how he and his brother used to play with Lawn Darts as kids. Ah, nostalgia. 

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Entergy Lab contained 4 different types of uranium, as well as a Geiger counter for your child’s amusement. A product of the atomic age trends of the 1950s, promotions declared that materials in this set were certified as non-dangerous, so long as none of the vials containing the ore was opened (surely children would never use a toy other than for its intended purpose). Thankfully, this kit was only on the market for one year, taken off the shelves in 1951. 

As a Barbie lover growing up, I remember when the Rollerskating Barbie of 1991 was pulled from the shelves. This beautiful doll with her platinum blonde hair and totally rad early ‘90s clothes came with the expected cool roller skates, complete with a lighter-type mechanism that produced sparks when she rolled across a surface. This doll sounds fun—until she skates across a flammable surface. 

Other notable toys include Clackers from the 1970s, which would shatter into hard plastic shards that resulted in eye injuries and skin lacerations, and more recent toys with warnings, such as Hoverboards. And then there are trampolines: guaranteed least favorite toy of all pediatricians. 

The scariest toy on this list would have to be the Yo-yo Water Ball. This early 2000s toy was a proverbial triple threat. This toy consisted of a bouncy ball filled with water on a stretchy string. I can see the appeal to a child. Problem was, the stretchy string represented a strangulation risk as it could easily wrap around a child’s neck. There were several reports of this occurring. 

Secondly, if the toy itself came in contact with a spark, the hydrocarbon containing material would catch fire. It would burn so hot that it could not be extinguished in lab testing. To make matters worse, the fluid contained in the ball would leach toxic chemicals from the material and was toxic if the child consumed it. 

These examples are presented in a light-hearted manner, but we must keep in mind that serious injury and death did occur because of these toys. I present them to illustrate the point that as parents and consumers, special care must be taken to ensure that the toys we give are safe as well as fun.

1. Make sure the toy is appropriate for the child’s age. 

2. Toys with button batteries pose a serious threat of injury if the batteries should be swallowed.

3. Be aware of toys that may have projectiles or small parts that could pose a choking or ingestion hazard.