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Cheap Toys Are Rarely Inspected for Safety by Retailers

The Short of It

You might want to rethink that visit to the dollar store toy aisle. Bloomberg reports that some sellers of cheap toys are violating safety regulations more often than you may realize.

The Lowdown

You may have heard of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)—the organization regulates and inspects products sold throughout the country for safety. The CPSC recalls unsafe products and also logs safety violations. Bloomberg reports that the companies with the most recorded safety violations for children's products are Dollar Tree (and its subsidiary, Greenbrier International Inc.), Zulily and Target.

These issues can include too much lead in the toys, phthalates (chemicals in some plastics that can cause hormone disruption), choking hazards and material that's flammable (as in children's pajamas). The toys affected range from military action figures to walkie-talkies to paints.

Companies may also look for loopholes to prevent having to label items as safety hazards because that could harm sales. For example, a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia, Ixchel Tamayo, died when the cap of a marker bought at Dollar Tree Inc. became lodged in her windpipe. Because the marker, which was part of a "Toy Story" coloring set, was considered a writing instrument and not a toy, it didn't carry a choking hazard warning. The cap was smaller than 1 centimeter in width, which means it didn't fit federal safety requirements.

One of the biggest issues with holding companies to the safety standards is that many of the products are made in other countries. The CPSC and other organizations, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are only able to inspect a small fraction of imported items.

The Upshot

The CPSC is now investigating Dollar Tree and Greenbrier for their violations, and hopefully, their findings can help prevent future injuries and deaths due to unsafe toys. Family Dollar Stores Inc. is in the middle of a $8.81 billion takeover of Dollar Tree, in which it would become the U.S.'s largest dollar store chain, so the results of the investigation could have a big impact.

"I would like to see more inspections," said former U.S. Senator Mark Pryor. "If people know that stuff is going to get caught at the border coming in, there's going to be less incentive overseas to cheat."

In the meantime, parents may want to bypass that great deal and stick with toy brands they trust, even if they're a little pricier. It also doesn't hurt to stick to American-made toys.

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