When toys attack: 5 dangerous toy recalls

By Joshua Nichols, Staff writer
Published On: Nov 07 2011 10:34:29 AM CST
Updated On: Nov 09 2012 09:53:39 AM CST
Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab toy

With the rare exception you can rest assured the toys you buy for your kids today are safe, but that hasn't always been the case.

Safety standards were much lower a decade or two ago and almost nonexistent before then. Today recalls because of cadmium or toxic lead capture the headlines, but dangerous toys are nothing new.

Take the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab for instance. What sounds like a top-secret military project was in reality a short-lived toy from the early 1950s -- and an expensive toy at that ($50 at the time, or more than $300 in today's dollars).

The toy was the most elaborate atomic energy educational set ever produced, containing actual uranium ore. Say what you will about current safety standards, but you can be pretty sure not many of today's toys are radioactive.

But thanks to its time, that toy never faced recall. These five dangerous toys weren't quite as fortunate ...

Aqua Dots toy packaging box

No. 5: Aqua Dots

One of the hottest toys in the months before Christmas in 2007, Aqua Dots would prove to also be one of the most dangerous.

The toy consisted of small, colorful beads that could be arranged in multidimensional designs and then sprayed with water to fuse them in place. A great, fun craft for the whole family, right?

One problem: The beads in this Chinese-made craft set contained a chemical that, when ingested, metabolized into the notorious "date rape" drug gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB.) The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that two children who had inadvertently swallowed the beads became comatose for hours and one child was hospitalized for five days.

Not exactly what you're looking for in the perfect Christmas gift.

The toy's manufacturer recalled 4.2 million units and suspended Aqua Dots from the market in November 2007.

Our next toy was literally too hot to handle ...

recalled Easy-Bake Oven toy

No. 4: Easy-Bake Oven

Even the classics can hit a rough patch. Consider the Easy-Bake Oven, more than 25 million of which have been sold since it was introduced in the 1960s.

The toy oven is such a go-to plaything that it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006. That same year, Hasbro introduced a front-loading version resembling a kitchen range.

The new version -- like many of the cakes cooked by the toy -- was apparently half-baked, as almost instantly reports of injuries started coming in. The model tended to trap children's hands and fingers in the oven's opening, inflicting second- and third-degree burns to unsuspecting would-be gourmet chefs.

In the end, 77 reports of burns were received, including one 5-year-old girl who required a partial finger amputation. Hasbro ended up recalling 985,000 of the front-loading ovens in February 2007.

At least the Easy-Bake Oven didn't have small pieces like our next toy ...

Battlestar Gallactica recalled toys

No. 3: Battlestar Galactica Missile Launcher

Despite lasting for less than a year, the original "Battlestar Galactica" wasted no time in selling out to the toy gods.

The sci-fi TV series debuted in September 1978, with Mattel soon after launching a line of toys inspired by the show. Faster than you can say merchandising, kids were begging their parents for the Viper, the Cylon Raider, the Scarab and the Stellar Probe.

But as quick as it began, the fun just as quickly came to an end. The ships came with tiny spring-loaded missiles and any parent can tell you that small children and small toy pieces just don't mix.

In 1979, a child reportedly died after choking on one of the missiles, prompting Mattel to recall all "Battlestar Galactica" models and suspend production of the toy. The original show met the same fate in the spring of that same year.

But at least the launcher didn't become known by the name "death cocoon," unlike our next toy ...

mini hammock EZ Sales recall

No. 2: Mini hammocks

Would you buy something called a "death cocoon" and leave your child to play with it in the backyard? Probably not.

But that's just one of the nicknames earned by mini hammocks that grew popular in the '80s and '90s. The nylon hammocks sold for about $4 a piece and were made by several different companies, including the regrettably named "Hang Ten" model produced by EZ Sales.

The hammocks lacked spreader bars at either end, allowing them to close around kids who lay in them. Really, if you're a manufacturer of children's hammocks, it's hard to imagine a bigger design flaw.

Between 1984 and 1995, 12 children died by asphyxiation after becoming tangled in the hammocks. The CPSC also received a report of a 7-year-old who suffered permanent brain damage after a near-strangulation.

All together, the 13 companies that made the hammocks ended up suspending sales and recalling 3 million of them in August 1996.

Last up, it's all fun and games until somebody gets impaled ...

Jarts recalled lawn game

No. 1: Jarts/Lawn Darts

As mom was fond of saying, it's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye ... or gets a flying projectile lodged in the skull.

Many an adult who came out the other end of the rough-and-tumble world of 1970s and 1980s toys in one piece will recall childhood days spent hurling Jarts or some other version of lawn darts around the backyard.

And while there was an actual point -- pun intended -- to the game, it invariably devolved into the pure chaos of flinging the heavy, metal projectiles with plastic fins as high as possible just to see where they came down.

Ouch.

Really, it's not so much a surprise that lawn darts were responsible for at least 6,700 injuries and four deaths before they were banned in 1988, but rather that more kids, and adults for that matter, weren't hurt or killed by the once popular yard game.

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