Worst Toys for Kids? Consumer Group Picks 10 Hazardous Toys to Avoid in 2011

A consumer group has picked the 10 Worst Toys for 2011.A consumer group has picked the 10 Worst Toys for 2011.Godzilla and Captain Jack Sparrow action figures, mini trampolines, and Shrinky Dinks are among the toys that have been flagged because of the risk of puncture wounds, electrocution, choking, other injuries "or even death," a Boston-based consumer group warns. World Against Toys Causing Harm (WATCH) has issued their annual "10 Worst Toys" list, and several kids classics and new favorites are among their picks for the toys parents should avoid this holiday season.

"We've been looking at these issues for decades," WATCH director James Swartz told Yahoo! Shine. "The 10 toys aren't meant to be a list of the only hazardous toys on the market, but representative of particular hazards. It's a reminder that all toys on the shelves are not safe." On the list, which can be found at toysafety.org, are:

A wooden Twist n' Sort toy for toddlers
Power Rangers Samurai Mega Blade sword
Fold & Go miniature portable trampoline
Pulling Animal Duck
Schylling toy school bus
Z-Curve Bow
Stepper "Low Rise" Stilts
Sword Fighting Jack Sparrow action figure
The Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker oven
"Gigan" Godzilla Creature 12-inch action figure

The groups started publishing their "10 Worst Toys" list in 1973. (You can see the entire 2011 list here.) "We walk up and down toy aisles, and we shop online these days, much as consumers would do, because consumers don't have access to testing labs." Swartz says. "The current regulations and testing standards aren't adequate. The fact is that we're seeing a lot of the same types of hazards year after year."

The Incredible Shrinky Dinks Maker, for example, seems like a fun, updated version of that old stick-them-in-the-oven plastic craft that many parents grew up with. But though the 60-watt bulb is in an enclosed "heating chamber" and a caution label warns that the toy should be used with adult supervision and unplugged when not in use, there's still plenty of potential for electrical shocks and burns. "A product with so many inherent hazards does not lend itself to use in a home environment with children," WATCH writes on their website. A similar toy--the Easy Bake Oven--was flagged by WATCH in 1971, 1977, and 1986; nearly 1 million toy ovens like it were recalled in 2007.

One can see how the Z-Curve Bow (a "high-performance" bow-and-arrow set that says "Do not aim at eyes or face" and "arrows should not be pulled back at more than half strength" right on the box) could be dangerous. But a classic wooden ducky-on-wheels pull toy? A miniature yellow school bus? How are those things hazardous?

Swartz says that dangers aren't always obvious. "Sometimes you need to dig into the packages a little bit," Swartz says. Though the bus is intended for kids age 3 and older, the rubber wheels can be pried off and swallowed by a younger sibling. The problem with the wooden duck is that it has a 33-inch long string attached. You couldn't pull the toy without it, of course, but the long length makes it a strangulation hazard for the 1-year-olds who are supposed to play with it. Toy industry standards limit the length of such cords to 12 inches or less for crib and playpen toys, he explains; just because the pull-toy isn't intended for use in a playpen or crib doesn't mean that it won't end up in one.

"This is a matter of categorization," Swartz says. "That potential for strangulation, in our estimation, doesn't disappear because of what the toy is called or how the manufacturer says the toy is to be used."

The Toy Industry Association, a trade group, maintains that holiday hazard reports like the one WATCH publishes are overblown.

"These groups frequently focus attacks on toys they deem to be 'unsafe,' 'unhealthy,' or 'dangerous'," they sad in a statement. "Their claims are frequently found to be unsubstantiated and often ignore or misinterpret the facts--and needlessly frighten parents."

"Protecting the safety of children is a shared responsibility," Joan Lawrence, vice president of safety and government affairs for the Toy Industry Association trade group, said in another statement. He pointed out that toy recalls have declined year after year, which indicates that safety has improved. "The toy industry works year round to ensure the highest level of product safety. Unfortunately, most injuries are the result of misusing a toy in a way that was not intended."

But WATCH points out that appearances on their "Worst Toy" lists have led to the recall or redesign of several popular toys. Remember when Fisher Price's Little People were actually little? "It was just small enough to fit into a child's airway, but too large to pass through," Swartz says. "What happened after attention was brought to that issue was that the toys were quietly redesigned. There was never a formal recall issued, but what you see now on the toy shelves are Little People that are large enough that they don't violate the industry standard." According to the WATCH report card, toys like the Batman Batmobile (1990, for being a puncture and laceration hard), Embo Elephant and Hummbugg Bee mobiles (1979, strangulation risk), and the Go Diego Go Animal Rescue Boat (2007, lead paint) were recalled after being flagged by WATCH.

The ideal toy for a very young child is "one that doesn't have any removable parts, especially small parts, that could create a choking hazard," suggests Swartz, whose kids are now 19 and 16 years old. But in general, parents need to make informed choices and be vigilant about what they're buying. "Don't assume that toys are necessarily safe because they've reached the toy store shelves," he says. "Don't assume that they've been tested properly and that there are no hazards just because they've reached the shelves."

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