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ANNUAL SURVEY OF TOYS FINDS HAZARDS APPEAR TO BE DROPPING

Just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy, the New York Public Interest Research Group has published its annual list of toys that it claims pose risks to small children.

This is the 17th time that the not-for-profit organization has conducted its survey, which calls attention to potential choke hazards and other dangers it uncovers.

Mary Carney, project coordinator for NYPIRG's chapter at Buffalo State College, said the number of toy hazards appears to be dropping, and that a large majority of toys include tough new choke warnings. But she urged parents to still closely examine what they buy.

Nationwide in 2001, nine children choked to death in incidents involving toys, down from 17 in 2000, Carney said, during a press conference at Buffalo State on Tuesday.

"I think people are becoming more vigilant these days," she said.

The New York state group's work was part of a national Public Interest Research Group study involving toy safety. NYPIRG volunteers visited a variety of places where toys are sold, including some stores in Buffalo.

The national report cautioned that the greatest toy danger still comes from small balls, balloons and toys with small parts that children can choke on. The group said such toys are still widely available and often lack warning labels.

NYPIRG and its counterparts in other states attract media attention each year with the report and related press conferences that demonstrate potential hazards in toys. But the groups also make recommendations to consumers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, toy makers and toy stores, in hopes of reducing risks.

The national Public Interest Research Group says its list of toy hazards is not intended to be comprehensive. (Its list can be seen at www.toysafety.net)

East Aurora-based Fisher-Price doesn't place much stock in reports published by the Public Interest Research Group or similar organizations, said Laurie Oravec, director of public relations for Fisher-Price.

"All of these lists generate publicity, but none of them in our mind really have credibility," she said.

Oravec pointed to another annual list, published by a group of product liability lawyers called World Against Toys Causing Harm, that this year included a Fisher-Price's Creative Coaster. She said the Creative Coaster has been sold for 30 years, without any complaints from customers about its safety.

"You have to look at the safety record of the toy," Oravec said. The company also emphasizes feedback from customers and the expertise of the workers responsible for a product, she said.

Shannon Eis, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, said that toymakers sometimes act on complaints brought forward by organizations such as the Public Interest Research Group.

For instance, Disney has recalled a toy it produced involving characters from the film "Monsters Inc." The Public Interest Research Group found a potential choke hazard with the toy and notified the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which in turn informed Disney.

But on a larger level, the toy industry group faults the Public Interest Research Group and other organizations that focus on toy dangers for collecting their findings and releasing them only once a year, instead of sharing possible problems when they're found.

"We wish it wasn't a one-day-a-year activity," Eis said.

The industry group offers toy safety information at www.toy-tia.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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