Fidget spinners, the multipronged, whirling gadgets that became so popular this year some schools banned them as a distraction, have been marketed as playful diversions meant to help people calm down and focus.
But now a consumer advocacy group says two types of fidget spinners being sold at Target could be dangerous. The items - Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Brass and Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal - were found to contain as much as 330 times the federal legal limit for lead in children's products, according to lab tests conducted for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund.
The group is calling on Target to stop selling the items and issue recalls for the ones they've already sold.
Target said the fidget spinners, which sell for $19.99 online and in store, are not toys, but rather "general use products" because they are marketed to users 14 and up. (Federal law defines "children's products" as items that are designed primarily for use by those 12 and under.)
"The two fidget spinners cited are clearly marked on the package as 'appropriate for customers ages 14 and older,' and are not marketed to children," a Target spokesman said in an email. "As a result, the fidget spinners identified are not regulated as toys or children's products and are not required to meet children's product standards."
Federal laws limit the amount of lead in children's products to 100 parts per million (ppm). Laboratory tests performed last month showed that the Fidget Wild Spinner Premium Brass contained 33,000 ppm of lead in its center circle, and 22,000 ppm in its arm, according to U.S. PIRG. The Fidget Wild Premium Spinner Metal, meanwhile, contained 1,300 ppm of lead in the center circle, and 520 ppm in its arm.
The products are supplied by Bulls-I-Toys, based in Des Moines.
"Safety is one of our top priorities," Howard Chizick, a spokesman for Bulls-I-Toys, said in an email. "All of our product are tested and comply with [Consumer Product Safety Commission] safety standards."
Exposure to high levels of lead has been shown to cause lead poisoning, which can cause organ damage and long-term health problems.
U.S. PIRG said it sent representatives to five Target stores around the country who found the spinners being sold in the toy department. The Fidget Wild Spinner Premium Brass is also being sold on Target's website. "Framed as a toy, the fidget spinner is also a great stress-relief tool," the online description reads. Below that, it says the manufacturer categorizes the toy as being for ages "6 years and up." (The product's box, however, specifies the toy is for "ages 14+.")
"Saying fidget spinners aren't toys defies common sense, as millions of parents whose kids play with spinners can tell you," said Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director for U.S. PIRG.
The advocacy group says it has notified the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal body, of the high lead levels. A CPSC spokeswoman said she could not comment specifically on the products sold by Target. On its website, the CPSC says "most fidget spinners are general use products unless they are primarily intended for children 12 years of age and younger."
"The CPSC, Target and Bulls-I-Toys need to acknowledge the obvious - that all fidget spinners are toys," Cook-Schultz said.
The U.S. PIRG publishes an annual report on toy safety, which has led to more than 150 product recalls and regulatory actions over the past 30 years.