PIRG warns of toy dangers but finds fewer of them

WASHINGTON (AP) — Toys are safer than ever before, consumer advocates say, but parents should remain vigilant in keeping their

little ones away from powerful magnets and small items that can easily cause choking.

"The main trend that we saw this year was that we didn't find as many toxic toys as we thought we would," said Nasima Hossain,

a public health advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

PIRG examined more than 200 toys on store

shelves at major retailers and dollar stores and tested about three

dozen toys for

lead and chemicals called phthalates, which are used to make

plastic products softer but have been linked to reproductive

defects and other health problems. A 2008 product safety law

ushered in new standards for children's products, including strict

limits on lead and phthalates allowed in toys.

Of the toys tested, only one — a Morphobot

action figure — turned up lead levels that exceeded the new stricter

federal limit

on how much metal can be in the toy. For phthalates, the toys all

met the federal standard for what's allowed, though a Dora

the Explorer backpack had levels that would trigger disclosure

under Washington state and California law, the report said.

Small toys that could choke children and loud toys that could possibly lead to hearing loss were the primary concern of this

year's report.

A Dora the Explorer guitar and a set of

colorful toy car keys for infants were cited for being excessively loud.

Play food

sets of everything from little strawberries to miniature sausage

as well as small dragster cars that had tiny rubber traction

bands on the wheels that could come loose were all listed as small

enough to cause a child to choke.

The group also highlighted renewed concerns about magnets, especially the high-powered magnets in executive desktop toys for

adults or a finger-play magnet toy for kids called Snake Eggs that PIRG found at a dollar store.

PIRG cited government estimates of 1,700

emergency room visits between 2009 and 2011 involving the ingestion of


magnets. Most cases involved children between 4 and 12 years old.

Older children have accidentally ingested the balls while

trying to mimic tongue piercings. The magnets, such as the ones in

the popular Buckyball desktop toys, can cling together

if swallowed, pinch internal tissue and lead to serious injuries.

The Toy Industry Association's Stacy Leistner says his group agrees that strong magnets are a risk for children and shouldn't

be available to them.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission this

summer sued New York-based Maxfield and Oberton, the maker of the

Buckyball desktop

toys, to stop their sale. The finger-fidget toys are designed for

adults, but CPSC said it was seeing too many injuries involving


Maxfield has maintained the toys are for adults, marketed to adults and carry clear warning labels — but it announced last

month that it would stop making the Buckyball series. CPSC is considering a ban on high-powered magnet sets.