Every holiday season the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group joins in a national effort to publicize a range of dangerous toys in a campaign called “Trouble in Playland.” The annual pronouncements have helped prod the federal government into recalling more than 150 different kinds of toys, most of them posing a choking potential for unaware children.
This year is no different, Megan Bechtold-Enge, OSPIRG campus organizer at Southern Oregon University, said Tuesday as she displayed this year’s offenders, mostly imported from China or Mexico.
Tiny parts, such as pegs for games, often found at dollar-type stores, are raising red flags. Young children explore things by touch, smell and taste, which means they will put them in their mouths, says Debbie Gary, director of the Schneider Children's Center in Ashland.
“Our mind is always on safety here,” she said at the Tuesday event, “and we are always looking for loose parts. What scares me about what I heard from OSPIRG today is the doll with the microphone. It makes me yearn for the days of Hula Hoops and Twinkies.”
Gary referred to the news from Bechtold-Enge that the privacy of children can be compromised by the increasingly sophisticated range of dolls and other toys with Bluetooth wireless capability. That means information — conversations, names, schools, likes and dislikes — could make its way to the internet and to corporations that could use the information for marketing or other unknown purposes, said Bechtold-Enge. Such devices could also capture the speech of adults within earshot, she added.
“We need to protect our youngest consumers, as we have been for 32 years,” she said, adding it’s the job of the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission to screen toys and demand recalls of unsafe ones.
In a display at the center, she showed golf, football and peg games with tiny parts, as well as balloons, any and all of which could pose choking hazards. Bechtold-Enge showed a small plastic tube used as a reference guide: If a toy can pass through it, the toy is too small. She suggested parents use a toilet paper tube to test toys themselves and reduce the chance of tragedy.
High on the list of most dangerous toys is a version of the popular “fidget spinner." The Fidget Wild, made by Bullseye, had high lead levels and was pulled from Target’s toy aisle Nov. 10, with reports that it contained more than 30 times the legal limit of lead for a toy.
Nationally, PIRG also warned users that a danger highlighted in past years — hoverboards — are still a potential risk, because batteries in the rechargeable devices can overheat and explode.
Jill Smedstad, an SOU staff member and a parent, was among those present at the demonstration.
“I need to know more so I can make good choices," she said. "It scares me about the internet-capable doll. I don’t want anything collecting data. I have a 2-year-old, and we want to take away anything harmful.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.