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Dangers on the toy shelves: Dora's guitar, balloon launcher

Nov. 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM ET

Toys are fun, but they can also be dangerous. Two reports released on Tuesday remind us that we need to remain vigilant when we go toy shopping. 

For its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) examined more than 200 toys and found about a dozen that it believes could be dangerous to children. 

These include a Dora guitar made by Fisher Price that was too loud, a dragster car with small rubber traction bands on the wheels that could be a choking hazard and a novelty desktop toy with powerful magnets small enough to be swallowed. 

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“We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Nasima Hossain, public health advocate for U.S. PIRG, in a statement. 

PIRG tested the toys for lead and other toxins. Only one toy violated the new federal standard for lead. No toys or jewelry exceeded voluntary industry standards for cadmium. And none of the plastic toys had levels of phthalates – a potentially harmful chemical used to soften plastic – above federal standards. 

“We are not aware of the testing procedures used by PIRG, but at Mattel, we are extremely careful in establishing appropriate volume levels in all of our toys," Fisher Price told TODAY. "Our Dora Tunes Guitar fully complies with U.S. and international toy standards regarding sound levels in toys. We have also worked closely with established audiologists to confirm that these standards are safe and appropriate for children based on sound science." 

The 10 worst toys 

The advocacy group W.A.T.C.H warned parents that toys “with the potential to seriously harm or kill children continue to be found on store shelves, in catalogues, and on e-retailers’ websites.” 

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It’s annual “10 Worst Toys” list, includes products from well-known manufacturers and sold at big-name retail stores. The potential hazards include strangulation, choking, eye injuries, impact injuries and puncture wounds. A few specific examples:

  • Vtech’s “Explore and Learn Helicopter,” a pull toy recommended for children 12 to 36 months, made the W.A.T.C.H. list because of its approximately 24-inch cord. That’s long enough to create the potential for strangulation.
  • Bandai’s "Super Samurai Shogun Helmet" has an attachable crown with pointed tips made from rigid plastic. The package warns not to hit or poke anyone with the toy. W.A.T.C.H. says the 9” tips have the potential for “penetrating impact and puncture wound” injuries.
  • A water balloon launcher made by Water Sports, LLC and sold on Amazon.com claims to have the capability to shoot balloons at speeds up to 75 mph. The manufacturer’s warning reads: “Can cause severe injury or facial damage…”

Water Sports told TODAY it meets all federal regulations and warning requirements. “We take safety very seriously and would not wish to intentionally or unintentionally cause harm to anyone as we are in the business of  family fun,” said Kerrie Boss, a vice president at Water Sports, the maker of the balloon launcher.

For this 40th annual “10 Worst Toys”list, W.A.T.C.H. focused on items sold via the Internet. Buying toys this way creates its own challenges because you can’t see or touch the toy before purchase and look for obvious hazards.  

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W.A.T.C.H. found that many toys available online have retailer warnings and age recommendations that “are inconsistent with those supplied by manufacturers.” In some cases, the warnings are not there at all. 

“Such omissions and inconsistencies regarding important safety information can lead to misinformed, and potentially dangerous, consumer purchases,” W.A.T.C.H. stated in its news release. 

More Info:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitteror visit The ConsumerMan website.

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