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Be ever-vigilant, toy safety group advises

Be ever-vigilant, toy safety group advises

Batteries, magnets and simple riding toys can prove risky for kids

By Dennis Thompson

(HealthDay News) -- Since 1973, a nonprofit group called WATCH has put out a "10 Worst Toys" list in late November, as holiday shopping kicks into high gear.

The list does not shy away from naming specific products. A news release introducing the list last year said that it contained "nationally known names, such as 'Disney-Pixar WALL-E,' 'Curious George,' X-Men' and 'Dark Knight Batman,' being sold by major manufacturers and retailers."

The group, whose name is an acronym for World Against Toys Causing Harm, bases the list on an annual survey, according to its director, James Swartz.

"The list is representative of types of hazards," he said. "We use each toy as a teaching tool for consumers, to show them these are the type of hazards you can find out in the marketplace each year."

The Massachusetts nonprofit was founded by Swartz's late father, Edward M. Swartz, a trial lawyer and child product safety advocate who in 1968 began a one-man crusade against unsafe toys. Edward Swartz wrote two books on the topic, Toys That Don't Care in 1971 and Toys That Kill in 1986, and started producing the annual list of toy hazards.

"He was really the lone voice out there in regard to child safety issues, particularly hazards in toys," his son James recalled. "He was very passionate about getting the word out about safety."

In many ways, the hazards then remain the hazards now. "These hazards we are identifying are the same types of hazards that have been out there for years, unfortunately," his son said.

Toys with small parts always make the list. So do toys with projectiles. The names change, but not the chance that a child might choke on a small plastic piece or put an eye out with a projectile.

"A lot of the hazards, truthfully, are the same or similar to the ones we've been talking about since the '70s," James Swartz said.

Still, some things have improved. When Swartz's father began his crusade, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission didn't exist. Today there's more awareness about safety issues regarding toys, whereas back in the day, Swartz said, safety wasn't even part of the public discussion.

Companies also have become more responsive to criticism, he said. "Our preference is to work with the toy industry," he said. "To say, 'Hey, these hazards are out there, you need to do something about this.' There's no reason why defective playthings should be on the shelves."

But with every generation of new parents, he said, there remains the need to educate them about the potential for injury and death from items intended to be for play.

"An important message is not to assume that the toys getting to the shelves are necessarily safe," Swartz said. "Consumers really need to educate themselves about the hazards that are out there year after year."

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