Days before the annual mob scene that is Black Friday, a consumer advocacy group is urging parents to take a closer look at the Christmas toys they're gearing up to buy.
Several popular products may pose safety risks to children, according to the 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which visited toy chains, malls and dollar stores this fall looking for potentially dangerous playthings.
Among the concerning findings: plastic play food sold at Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us that could constitute a choking hazard. Balloons from a dollar store marketed to 1-year-olds, even though experts recommend that balloons be restricted to children older than age 8. A Dora the Explorer guitar at Target that may pose a hearing risk with prolonged exposure.
One action figure violated federal legal lead standards of 100 parts per million, according to the group. Powerful small magnets classified as "finger fidget" toys raised concerns as well, due to the risk of internal injuries if eaten. Several products with small parts weren't properly labeled with warning notices.
But overall, U.S. PIRG concluded that new laws including the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 had "made great strides in toy safety." Investigators encountered fewer toys with perilously toxic components such as phthalates.
Several major toy categories have seen sales slides in recent years, according to the Toy Industry Assn. Inc. Action figures and accessories suffered an 8% slide last year, games and puzzles slipped 8% and plush playthings tumbled 21%. But doll sales got a 7% boost while building sets surged 23%.