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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But not every toy is made by well-meaning elves in his workshop.
With the holiday gift-buying season here, consumer groups are warning parents to shop carefully to avoid bringing home one of the hazardous -- and potentially deadly -- toys that continue to show up on the shelves of major U.S. retailers.
Among the dangerous products to avoid this year: A Dora the Explorer backpack on sale at Claire's that the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says contains the toxic chemical bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate and a Big Bang Rocket on sale at Amazon.com that the group World Against Toys Causing Harm says may cause hearing loss.
On Tuesday, U.S. PIRG released its annual "Trouble in Toyland" report, flagging about a dozen dangerous toys the group says it found on sale at national retailers in September and October.
It comes on the heels of the "10 Worst Toys" report from WATCH, released last week, which warned the number of defective toys reaching the marketplace each year was "clearly suggestive of a broken system that needs fixing before more children are harmed."
Consumer watchdogs say the big risk to kids these days is as much chemical as mechanical and comes from the cadmium. lead-based paint and plastic-softening compounds like bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate commonly used in toys.
But choking, cutting, blinding and strangulation hazards continue to pose a problem -- though some of the problems can be avoided if parents show common sense when they shop and keep an eye on their children when they play.
Among the old-fashioned culprits this year: A Supasplat Splatblaster toy gun available at KMart that could -- like the Red Ryder BB Gun in the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" -- take an eye out.
"A lot of it is accidents," said Jacinda Adams, a vice president with Prevent Blindness America, a Chicago-based group. "Kids get a new toy. They run through the house. They fall on the toy and poke themselves in the eye.
"But at the end of the day, it's up to parents and consumers to be aware and how to be careful to avoid winding up in the emergency room for Christmas."
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), toy-related injuries sent 250,100 children to U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2009 and resulted in 12 deaths, including two from choking
Of the 12 reports of toy-related deaths that the CPSC received in 2009, the majority involved riding toys that children either drove into pools or other bodies of water, where they drowned, or onto roadways, where they were struck and killed by a motor vehicle.
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Reporting by James B. Kelleher, editing by Greg McCune