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Top hazardous toys of 2013 identified by Public Interest Research Group

By Andra Lim - American-Statesman Staff

Austin parents looking for a blacklist of all potentially hazardous toys to bypass this holiday season are out of luck.

But the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which includes a Texas branch, might have the next best thing. The consumer advocacy group cherry-picked a group of toys, which are all available in Austin area stores, to test. It compiled a list of those it has deemed unsafe, including balloons, a mock cellphone and a pencil case.

“The vast majority of toys are going to be absolutely safe,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, at a Tuesday news conference for the group’s annual toy report, now in its 28th year. But, he said, “There are some dangerous toys lurking out there.”

Some general rules of thumb: Keep in mind that a toy appropriate for one child might not be safe for a younger sibling. Small batteries and magnets should be kept out of reach, especially from small children. And, if a toy can slide through a toilet paper roll, it’s a choking hazard.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says there are signs the toy aisle is getting safer. The federal agency said it issued only 31 toy recalls in the 2013 fiscal year, down from 172 in 2008, when a law imposing more stringent regulations on children’s products passed.

But there are “thousands” of toys in stores the commission has never looked at, said Thomas Visco, program associate at TexPIRG, which republished the national group’s report word-for-word under the state arm’s name.

The federal commission, which targets imported toys for inspection, has begun to gather samples of the 20 toys the U.S. Public Interest Research Group calls hazardous, and “will test them to see if further action is needed,” commission spokeswoman Patty Davis said in an email.

Dell Children’s Medical Center saw one or two toy-related deaths in 2012, said Dr. Eric Higginbotham, the center’s interim emergency department medical director. Higginbotham said he did not have an estimate of the number of emergency room visits that were related to toys last year, but he noted the hospital sees a couple cases a year in which a child has ingested a watch battery. Once a child swallows a battery, it can burn through his or her esophagus in two hours and require surgery, he said.

Williamson County Emergency Medical Services received no calls for toy-related injuries during a period of last year’s holiday season, while Austin-Travis County EMS could not provide data on such calls.

Nationally, there are 11 reports of toy-related deaths in 2012, and more are expected to come in, according to a news release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. State-by-state figures aren’t available, Davis said.

During the news conference, Visco singled out the Captain America Shield, a Halloween costume item that he said was sold out at an Austin Toys “R” Us. He said the superhero prop had 29 times the amount of lead that federal standards allow.

Disguise, Inc., which the report lists as the shield’s manufacturer, did not return a message for comment.

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