What to look for to avoid dangerous toys for children

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As we head to Black Friday, thoughts turn to holiday shopping -- and toys for children. To help inform caregivers, a consumer group has put out its annual Trouble in Toyland report.

It says toys have become much safer -- and yet a quarter million families went to the emergency room last year, after swallowing one.

Toys bring so much joy, fun, and promote good development. But can they also pose a threat? The Public Interest Research Group tested several products in a report saying some toys can harm children if they're used the wrong way. And the group showed us what to watch out for.

Playing with slime -- stretching, twisting, smashing -- can be fun, creative, calming. Just don't eat it.

"It has very high concentrations of boron," says Laura Deehan of the California Public Interest Research Groups. The organization says four brands of slime were found to contain boron, a material made of borax. It can cause nausea and vomiting. Boron levels are not regulated in this country -- but the products do have a warning label.

"It says do not eat, it might be dangerous," says Deehan.

However, Deehan says some kids might not resist the temptation to try.

She also says to watch out for toys that are too loud. If it's annoying to you, it's probably not good for your kids either. "This toy registers at 87 decibels, which is damaging for a very young child," says Deehan, demonstrating with a light-up gun.

Deehan shows us a fishing toy that is meant for older kids, but if younger siblings get hold of the little parts, they might swallow them. "Babies, infants, toddlers, they're always putting things in their mouth."

"This is small enough to fit inside a toilet roll," Deehan says of the toy.

And that's the test -- fitting inside of a toilet paper roll means it's small enough for a child to choke on it.

Which is also a concern with magnets. Deehan indicates a stress reliever meant for adults. The can says to keep away from anyone under 14.

"Inside here, we have hundreds of very powerful magnets," Deehan points out.

And if a child swallows a couple of them, it can cause serious internal damage.

Finally, the traditional party balloon -- seemingly harmless -- can be dangerous.

"The problem is if a balloon like this gets popped," Deehan says. Once a balloon is popped, it leaves many small pieces -- little pieces that kids might chew on, and choke.

"We're not saying that toys with small parts and balloons shouldn't exist in the world, but we are saying that parents with very small children should be aware," says Deehan.

The Toy Industry Association says this report is needlessly scaring parents, saying toys are among the most regulated and safest of all types of consumer products. And it says toy makers adhere to all government standards including labeling and toxicity.

Read the "Trouble in Toyland" full report.

Read the Toy Industry Association's full statement below:

U.S. PIRG uses the headline "Trouble in Toyland" for its annual report to needlessly frighten parents with baseless claims. What PIRG doesn't tell you (because it would not grab headlines) is that toys continue to be one of the safest consumer product categories found in the home.

U.S. toy safety requirements include more than 100 standards and tests to ensure that toys are safe. These standards go above and beyond those for other consumer products. There are strict limits for lead and other chemicals in toys, internationally-emulated limits on sound level output, a highly effective small parts regulation that was developed with the help of pediatricians, and strict standards prohibiting the use of magnets in any toy part that is small enough to be swallowed.

Many of the items PIRG speaks of are not available, having been previously recalled (thanks to ongoing regulatory vigilance). The group also mentions several items that are not toys, such as: children's jewelry and musical instruments, magnets, and balloons. These products are not subject to the same rigorous standards as toys and including them under a "toy" safety headline deliberately misleads parents and undermines the toy industry's deep and ongoing commitment to safety.

The Toy Association works year-round to educate parents and caregivers to always shop at reputable stores and verified online retailers and to exercise caution when buying toys from flea markets, unverified sellers on online marketplaces, garage sales, etc., as these vendors may not be monitoring for recalled products or might not be selling legitimate toys that comply with strict U.S. laws.

Families are encouraged to always check and follow the age-grading on toy packaging. Toys labeled 3+ may contain small parts that can be a choking hazard for children under three (or kids who still mouth toys). Use a federally-approved Small Parts Tester (available online) to test small objects found around the home - not a toilet paper roll (as PIRG suggests).

Safety is the toy industry's top priority every day of the year, not just during the holidays. For information on recalls, toy safety, and ways to ensure safe play, families are invited to visit www.PlaySafe.org, The Toy Association's safety resource for parents and caregivers.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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