PORTLAND, Maine — Shoppers should be wary this holiday season of a Dora the Explorer knapsack, a dollar store action figure, and other toys on Maine store shelves that pose a danger to children, according to a national report released Tuesday.

For its annual “Trouble in Toyland” report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group examined more than 200 toys sold at national toy stores, malls and dollar stores this fall and found about a dozen it believed could harm children. They included powerful magnets small enough to be swallowed, a kit of plastic food toys that pose a choking hazard, and a play steering wheel that makes noises too loud for little ears.

“We need to protect our littlest consumers from unsafe toys,” said Nicole Karatzas, Maine field associate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “While toys are safer than ever before, parents and caregivers still need to watch out for common hazards when they shop for toys.”

Karatzas spoke Tuesday at Shunk Child Care in Portland, a small day care run by owner Sasha Shunk.

“It’s really important to read and to heed the warning labels, especially for children under age 3,” said Shunk, also a mother to two boys, aged 7 and 10.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group also tested the toys for lead and other harmful chemicals. A dollar store toy called Morphobot violated a new federal standard for lead.

Lead and other toxins were less worrisome this year due to a federal product safety law passed in 2008 that called for tighter limits on metals and chemicals in toys, the report found.

No toys or jewelry violated voluntary industry limits for cadmium, a metal that, like lead, can delay brain development in children.

None of the plastic toys exceeded federal limits for phthalates, a potentially harmful chemical used to soften plastic, but a Dora the Explorer backpack contained levels that would require disclosure under stricter laws in Washington and California.

“I really shouldn’t have to spend extra time going store to store reading labels and trying to purchase safe toys for the children in my care,” Shunk said. “Toxic metals, phthalates and other chemicals really have no business in children’s toys.”

The 2008 law permanently banned three phthalates from use in toys and set temporary limits on three others while tests continue.

The report also cited missing or unreadable labels on several toys and birthday balloons marketed to kids too young to play with them safely.

None of the toys the group tested failed federal regulations for choking hazards, but the organization wants to see tougher standards. Public Interest Research Group recommends that parents test small toys at home. If the toy slides through a toilet paper or paper towel roll, it’s too small for a child under three, Karatzas said.

The Toy Industry Association, which represents toy makers, agreed that products containing high-powered magnets pose a serious risk to children.

The Public Interest Research Group referenced Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 1,700 emergency room visits between 2009 and 2011 involved the ingestion of high-powered magnets. More than 70 percent of the cases involved children between 4 and 12 years old.

The magnets can severely pinch fingers and, worse, cling together if swallowed, damaging internal tissue and causing serious injuries.

The magnets cited in the group’s report, called Snake Eggs, however, are not considered toys and were marketed to those over age 14, said Stacy Leistner, a spokesman for the association.

Most of the toys tested complied with federal toy safety standards, he said. Public Interest Research Group’s annual report unnecessarily frightens parents each year during the holidays, Leistner said.

“It’s important for families to be exercising caution when they’re shopping and selecting toys,” he said. “We think age grading is the No. 1 factor to keep in mind when making a product selection for a young person on your list.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s choking standards for small toys have been in place for more than 30 years and are regularly reviewed, he said.

“If change is necessary, we’re certainly going to follow it. Whatever the law is, that’s what [companies] will build to,” Leistner said.

For more information, visit the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website at www.safeproducts.org; U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s toysafety.mobi, a site also accessible by smartphone; or the Toy Industry Association’s consumer website www.toyinfo.org.

To view the products listed in the  “Trouble in Toyland” report, click here.

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...