Fidget spinners pose threat to kids, watchdog group says

Last Updated Jun 21, 2017 2:38 PM EDT

Fidgets may harbor hidden dangers for children, a watchdog group is warning. 

The wildly popular toy made the annual list of unsafe summer playthings on Wednesday issued by the Boston-based World Against Toys Causing Harm. W.A.T.C.H.'s list highlights potentially hazardous items that parents should avoid.

Authorities in Germany said last week they plan to destroy tons of the tiny twirling gadgets that have been confiscated by customs agents. They said they tested the toys, which arrived from China, and found that bits could fall off and pose possible choking hazards for small children.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is also investigating several incidents involving the toys. A number of children have needed surgery after small parts got stuck in their throats.

"The main concern with the fidget spinners is many of them present choking hazards," said W.A.T.C.H. director James Swartz. "The problem is, they are sold in the toy aisle, but they are in somewhat of an in-between area, where they are often not classified as toys, but they are being used for and by small children."

He added, "A lot of them are being sold without age warnings or any caution about small parts, and that's something we think needs to be changed."

Fidget spinners were first designed to help children with concentration and to reduce fidgeting, although they picked up in popularity as a toy. Many different versions and designs have appeared as manufacturers sought to get in on the fad, with the TSA even singling out one design as "a weapon."

Instead of helping kids concentrate, the toys tended to distract students at school, some educators said. A survey of 200 largest schools in the U.S. found about one-third of them had banned the toy. 

"Because it's a distraction we are no longer allowing them in school and if they do bring them to school, we will take them, hold on to them and then give them back at the end of the day," John McDonald, assistant principal at Delano Elementary School in Minnesota, told CBS Evening News earlier this year

Some fidget spinners sell for only a few dollars, while the most expensive gadgets can fetch a few hundred dollars

The Toy Association, a trade association for toy manufacturers, said the warning was "confusing and misleading." Parents and caregivers should shop at reputable retailers that stock toys that comply with federal safety laws, the group said. It also recommends keeping toys with small parts away from children under three years old. 

Other toys and activities highlighted as risks for children by W.A.T.C.H. include hoverboards, which have been linked to fires sparked by defective batteries, and water-related activities. Shallow bodies of water like baby pools can present hazards that some parents and caregivers overloop, the group said. From 2014 to 2016, about 5,900 children visited hospitals for injuries related to water submersion, it noted. 

The group also recommends parents search for recalls before buying toys given the resale market for toys through sites such as Craig's List.

"There remain concerns about the availability of recalled products," Swartz said. "It's a little bit of a Wild West out there in terms of what you might find."