BLANCK-WEISS
Ted S. Warren  /  AP
Megan Blanck-Weiss of the Washington Public Interest Research Group demonstrates Tuesday in Seattle how the "yo-yo water ball" toy — a water-filled ball on an elastic-like cord — can stretch and pose a suffocation risk or cause injuries to a child's eyes or head.
updated 11/23/2004 6:21:04 PM ET 2004-11-23T23:21:04

Holiday shoppers should check toys by hand and avoid any with small parts that come off because children could choke on them, a consumer group said Tuesday in an annual warning about toy safety. The toy industry said education and constant monitoring of children at play can reduce the risk of injury and death from toys.

Last year, 11 children under age 15 died of toy-related injuries — all but one caused by choking on small balls, balloons, pieces of a game and or toy beads, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal safety agency.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in its 19th annual toy safety survey released Tuesday, again warned that the greatest danger to children still comes in the form of small balls, uninflated or pieces of balloons and toys with parts small enough to choke on. Such toys remain widely available, and often are not labeled as hazardous, the group said.

“Parents should not assume that all toys on store shelves are safe or adequately labeled,” said Lindsey Johnson, a consumer advocate for U.S. PIRG’s Education Fund and author of the “Trouble in Toyland” report.

In response, the Toy Industry Association said parents and sitters should constantly monitor children at play. The group also said past government reviews of toys on consumer-group watch lists have found that nearly all met federal standards.

The trade association, which has nearly 400 members who account for 85 percent of toy sales, also has created a Web hotline to provide toy-safety information to anyone who interacts with children.

“Education is a key factor to ensure children play safe and avoid potentially hazardous situations,” said Tom Conley, president of the Toy Industry Association.

Call for yo-yo water ball ban
One toy of particular concern, Johnson said, is the “yo-yo water ball” — a water-filled ball on an elastic-like cord that can be bounced, squeezed or twirled overhead like a lasso. The toy has been the source of nearly 400 injury reports to the CPSC, said agency spokesman Ken Giles. U.S. PIRG said suffocation injuries accounted for almost 75 percent of the injury reports after the cords wrapped around a child’s neck, with other reported injuries to the eyes, face and head.

Johnson said the toy should be banned from sale in the United States, but the CPSC does not yet agree.

“It’s just a matter of time before a child dies,” she said.

In September 2003, the federal agency warned of a “low but potential risk” of playing with yo-yo water balls, but stopped short of banning them — an assessment that has not changed, Giles said.

“Even though we have more incidents, nothing has qualitatively changed,” he said Monday.

In its warning, the agency said it found no toxicity or flammability concerns with the yo-yos’ liquid centers. Besides monitoring children at play with them, it also advised cutting off the cords or throwing away the toys.

Johnson said parents should know that the CPSC does not test all toys, and shouldn’t consider a toy to be safe because it’s for sale. Even toys that meet federal requirements may still pose dangers, she said.

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