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Some cute stocking stuffers pegged as potential dangers

One of the most beloved characters of recent childhood memory is getting the red flag for the holiday season from one of the top consumer advocacy groups in the country. The Washington-based U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says a small, inexpensive toy depicting Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch, poses a personal injury hazard to children. They could choke on the doll's small hat.

PIRG says that the doll, which can be had for about $7.00, is only one of about a dozen toys that are getting singled out in this year's annual toy safety report. Others include a plastic book for babies; a $1.00 plastic mini-crossbow that fires tiny balls and a thing called a whirly wheel.

The group says all of the toys fail to meet federal safety standards. Some have lead or phthalate levels that are unsafe. PIRG says the book and the hand-held wheel toy mentioned above fall into this category. Others, like Oscar and the crossbow toy, have parts that can choke.

Another Sesame Street toy on the flagged list is an Elmo talking cellphone. PIRG says it's too loud and could damage hearing.

Some of the makers of the toys deny the PIRG findings, and toy industry officials note that, in general, toys are safer today than they have been in years. They point to the reduced cases of toy recalls as evidence. Statistics from the government show that recalls have fallen dramatically from 172 in 2008 to 34 in 2011. And recalls due to lead went from 19 in 2008 to four in the past year.

PIRG says its short list for this year's flags followed a review of about 200 toys and other children's products from major retailers and dollar stores. The full list and report can be found at http://www.uspirg.org/edfund/toysafety-2011.

Source: AP, The Washington Post, "Hazards in holiday stockings? Oscar the Grouch doll, mini-crossbow pose risks, group says," Nov. 22, 2011

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