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Introduced as a toy to help kids with ADHD and autism focus on tasks, fidget spinners saw their popularity surge in spring. After a lull throughout fall, fidget spinners became a hit once again for the holiday season. On a basic level, most devices feature a three-pronged design with a spinning disc and bearing at the center. As the user holds the toy by the center, it spins around. Most versions involve some kind of plastic and metal.
Yet, its sudden popularity resulted in several design variations. Fidget spinners may include up to six prongs and others, with more of a tech angle, may come with Bluetooth connectivity, letting the user simultaneously play music from a phone.
Between these factors, several hazards accompany fidget spinners, from lithium-ion batteries catching fire to small parts and choking issues. Added to these concerns, its swift rise led to a slew of overseas manufacturers quickly designing and assembling these products to sell in the U.S., without effective quality and safety checks done.
Choking and Safety Hazards
Certain designs – especially spinners with just two prongs – may be small enough to be swallowed by a child. As well, even if the device is large enough, reports to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate the small metal parts at the ends of the prongs may fall off and pose a choking hazard.
In 2017, the CPSC investigated such complaints, two of which involved hospitalizations. By August, the organization put out a warning and updated its recommendations, stating that fidget spinners have potential to break into multiple parts and turn into a choking hazard. As a result, children under 3 years of age should never use a fidget spinner.
However, choking makes just one safety hazard associated with these toys. Having a range of manufacturers from multiple parts of the world is another. In the United States, toys must meet federal product standards, including the regulation F963. Established by the American Society for Testing Materials, this rule also known as the “Toy Standard” lays out guidelines for what constitutes a choking hazard and specifies which features, such as sharp edges and small parts, manufacturers should avoid or label. For this latter point, any toy designed for children ages 3 to 6 must come with a clear warning about small parts.
Yet, places that carry fidget spinners – with toy stores and online retailers being some of them – don’t have consistent warnings. For instance, some sellers indicate the products are designed for children age 12 and up, and others post no age limits or warnings about choking hazards.
In June 2017, the CPSC started receiving reports about Bluetooth-enabled fidget spinners spontaneously bursting into flames. These fires would become so strong that not only would the device melt, but so would the surface underneath.
For such users, the flames came on suddenly with barely a warning – in some cases, just a hissing sound. According to these reports, the user plugged the fidget spinner into a charger that didn’t come with the device and in less than an hour, the toy caught fire. Since these initial reports, tests attributed the fires to overheating lithium-ion batteries.
In its August warning, the CPSC further factored burn injuries into its updated guidelines. To prevent fires from happening, users:
- Must always use the cable that came with the device.
- Must stay in the same room, until the device is fully charged.
- Should never have a child under 3 years of age hold or play with a fidget spinner.
In November 2017, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund found that two types of fidget spinners sold at Target stores contained toxic levels of lead. Testing indicates that the two products, the Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal, went 330 times above the legal limit for children’s products. Specifically, discs added to the center and prongs had 22,000 parts-per-million (ppm) to 33,000 ppm of lead, which exposes children to such conditions as decreased bone and muscle growth, seizures and developmental delays.