Toys safer this year, but some can still hurt children, consumer group warns


While praising the toy industry for making safer products, consumer safety advocates warned yesterday that holiday shoppers should still be on the lookout for toys that can seriously injure children.

The federal Child Safety Protection Act of 1994, which took effect this year, imposed tougher labeling requirements for toys and raised the minimum size of small balls that could be sold for preschoolers' toys.

"Don't assume all toys are safe," warned Tom Fendley of the California Public Interest Research Group. For the ninth straight year, CALPIRG participated in a national toy safety survey, in which toys were bought at stores across the country and tested.

Although this year's list is shorter than in past years, it includes a sampling of 18 toys that pose choke hazards, contain dangerous substances or could poke an eye out.

"We find much improvement over previous years," said Mr. Fendley. "We've noted an increase in better labeling and in safer toys."

But at a news conference yesterday, CALPIRG showed off some widely available toys that remain dangerous, despite the new law.

For instance, the popular Sky Dancer doll -- which is labeled as being intended for children at least 5 years old -- could pose a projectile hazard. When someone pulls a string, the doll is launched from a base and travels at a pretty good speed.

Then there are balloons emblazoned with the likeness of Barney, the TV dinosaur. Balloons are always a choke hazard, CALPIRG said, and they are even more dangerous when carrying a picture of a figure loved by little kids. "It is absolutely inappropriate to market balloons to toddlers with toddlers' icons like Barney on them," said CALPIRG's Chadd Deo.

Another popular toy is a train made by Brio of Sweden. It contains small parts that do not meet the new federal standard banning parts that fit into a 1 5/8 -inch "choke tube" in toys that have play value for 3-year-old children, CALPIRG said.

Another new rule bans round objects of less than 1 3/4 -inch diameter in toys for 3-year-olds. But such toys can still be found. For instance, Puppet Beads made in Thailand are strings of wooden objects that do not meet the standard.

In general, toy buyers should "shop around and ask questions," said Mr. Deo, and they should shy away from anything they think might be hazardous.

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