As the holiday shopping season begins in earnest this week, a research group warned that some toys contain illegal levels of a chemical linked to a host of medical problems.
The report also warned holiday shoppers to look out for toy hazards such as small parts, loud sounds, soft plastics and lead contamination.
"This is definitely a time when people are going to be thinking about making purchases for the holidays, so we want people to be aware of these hazards," said Elizabeth Hitchcock, public health advocate for U.S. PIRG.
The organization focused on four hazards: small parts that can choke children younger than 3-years-old, loud toys that can cause hearing damage, lead-tainted toys and soft plastic toys that contain chemicals called phthalates.
Hitchcock encouraged parents to use the group's new Website, specially designed for use with mobile phones, to look up toy hazards while they are shopping.
Choking is the number one cause of toy-related deaths and injuries, according to the report. Hitchcock said not all toys bear the required choking warnings and that if a toy can fit into a toilet paper tube it is too small for children under three.
The group is also concerned about toys that just barely meet Consumer Product Safety Commission standards on small parts. U.S. PIRG encouraged CPSC to make the choking standards more strict.
"We looked at choking hazards and found some toys that violate that standard and some toys that make the case for expanding that standard," Hitchcock said.
U.S. PIRG also focused on loud toys, because nearly 15 percent of children between 6 and 17 years old show signs of hearing loss. Hitchcock said her group wanted to alert the CPSC that it was finding problems in this area.
In addition to toys such as play cell phones that are intended to be held next to the child's ear, Hitchcock noted that most noisemaking toys may pose risks because they are held only as far away as the child's arm length.
The report also warns against lead contamination and phthalates, both of which were subject to tougher standards in the Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act passed last year.
The group found violations of the new lead paint standards, as well as a cell phone charm that contained 71 percent lead by weight.
Lead poisoning can cause irreversible learning disabilities, behavioral problems and, at very high levels, seizures, coma and death.
U.S. PIRG found two children's products that contain phthalates, a lunch bag and a purse. These chemicals are widely used to make plastic products softer and can cause health problems.
The Toy Industry Association responded with a statement warning parents not to be "needlessly" frightened by these types of reports, which "often ignore or misinterpret the facts."
"Protecting the safety of children is a shared responsibility and a year-round priority the Toy Industry Association, Inc. and its members," the group said. "Consumers have every reason to trust the safety of the three billion toys sold in America each year."