MIAMI -- In a scene that looked a lot like Christmas morning, a table stacked with toys sat in a room -- never to be played with. There was a Barbie doll on a bicycle, a set of ping pong paddles and a huge inflated plastic ball.
All the toys featured are either choking hazards, suffocation dangers or have traces of lead. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection displayed the toys on Thursday to warn the public about the dangers of some of them this holiday season.
"We want the consumers to be able to make an educated decision," said Veron Foret, U.S. Customs and Border Protection field director.
He said most of the toys were seized entering the U.S., and they represent a lack of knowledge about American standards rather than an act of smuggling.
He singled out Kinder Eggs, chocolate eggs with toys inside, as a choking hazard. It has little plastic parts that could get stuck in children's throats. It is banned from being imported into the U.S.
The large plastic ball, known as a "walking ball," presents a hazard because it has potential risks of suffocation and drowning, he said.
The balls are a mainstay of amusement parks, carnivals and malls, but because it's sealed and contains no emergency exit, it significantly heightens the risk of injury or death, especially if the person inside is in distress.
Most of the lead-containing products, which included Hannah Montana backpacks and Dora the Explorer lunchboxes, were mainly imported from China and Peru, Foret said, and those countries don't have the same regulations for lead content.
So what can parents do to ensure they don't accidentally purchase a gift that might harm their kids?
Buy toys from "a reputable store and a reputable brand within that store," Foret said.
"Don't buy a dollar-store toy," he said.
In addition to the CBP seizures, an organization called World Against Toys Causing Harm Inc., which evaluates toy's safety, also released a list of toys to avoid this season.
Sword-fighting Jack Sparrow, an action figure from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, was on the list because it contained a large plastic sword that could cause severe eye injury.
The Fold and Go Trampoline, a toy specified for kids 3 years and older, is sold at Sears.com. WATCH said the "many hazards associated with trampoline use should make it apparent to manufacturers and retailers that such equipment should not be sold as a playtime activity for young children."
But one of the most dangerous toys on the list is also its most innocuous. The pulling animal duck, manufactured by Haba and marketed to toddlers, seems to be nothing more than a wooden duck on a string. The cord on the string is 33 inches long, and according to WATCH presents a serious potential strangulation hazard.
The best way to avoid accidents with toys, experts say, is to be educated about the dangers and buy age-appropriate toys. Remember that kids under 3 like to put things in their mouth, so look out for small parts as well.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent government organization that monitors consumer product safety, more than 250,000 children were seen in emergency rooms for toy-related injuries in 2010. Also, approximately 17 children died last year from toy-related injuries.
It's important for parents to be educated, Foret said, and there are consumer friendly web sites to help out. The CPSC site is www.toysafety.org.
As for the table of toys, their future was not bright. After 20 days in CBP custody, they are destroyed.
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