Small magnets, like the Buckeyball, are especially hazardous

For almost three decades now, the U.S. federation of Public Interest Research Groups, or U.S. PIRG, has kicked off the December holiday shopping season by releasing an Annual Survey of Toy Safety.

Today, U.S. PIRG released its 2014 report, saying that “Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics [sic] exceeding federal standards.”

When a toy is deemed a “choking hazard,” that generally refers to something which adults and older children can safely own and enjoy – though that same item can be dangerous or even fatal to children young enough to repeatedly put items in their mouths, and possibly swallow them.

PIRG further subdivided choking hazards into two subcategories: choking hazards and ingestion hazards. Sixteen of the listed toys pose “choking hazards,” meaning they had parts small enough to possibly choke a child who swallowed them.

Three magnetic toys were listed as “ingestion hazards,” referring to small magnetic parts which, if swallowed, can magnetically attract or “stick to” each other through body tissue, giving them the potential to cause dangerous intestinal blockages, or worse.

"Toxic" toys identified by U.S. PIRG

PIRG listed a couple other common-sense rules to keep in mind when buying gifts for young children: battery-operated items are dangerous because if the batteries are swallowed, they contain corrosive chemicals with can cause fatal internal bleeding. Children three years old or younger can choke on small balls “less than 1.75 inches in diameter.” And be wary of giving un-inflated balloons to kids below a certain age:

Balloons are easily inhaled in attempts to inflate them and can become stuck in children’s throats. Balloons are responsible for more choking deaths among children than any other toy or children’s product. As in past years, we continue to find balloons on store shelves marketed to children under eight.

While hazards such as these can be avoided with a little common sense, the five toys which PIRG identified as posing “toxic” hazards cannot. PIRG mentioned, for example, “lab tests revealed that a tambourine marketed to children ages two and older contained chromium at nearly 10 times the legal limit.” (Dig a little deeper into the report, and you'll see the specific tambourine was a cheap-looking “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” toy.)

Common sense and your own two eyes can tell you that something with lots of tiny little parts cannot be safely given to a toddler — but there's no common-sense way to determine whether a toy contains too much chromium. Nor would you know that there's lead in a set of toy police badges, or guess that a certain Dora the Explorer backpack and Hello Kitty hairclip contained phthalates, according to PIRG.

The full report (in .pdf form) can be downloaded here.

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