09/03/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT
LaVina Bowman's then-6-year-old son Devlin stumbled into her room with a terrible stomachache. She figured it was something the boy had eaten. But 18 hours later, surgeons cut open his abdomen and found the problem: two tiny, but powerful, magnets that Devlin swallowed after they fell out of his sister's Polly Pocket play set. Drawn together by magnetic attraction once inside his body, the toy fragments perforated his intestines, which leaked bacteria. "He nearly died," recalls Bowman.
Citing cases like Devlin's, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced on Aug. 14 a recall of 9 million toys produced by Mattel, including Polly Pocket dolls, Barbies and a die-cast toy car inspired by the movie Cars. "The hazards," says agency spokesman Ed Kang, "are twofold: lead paint that can cause serious problems if ingested, and tiny, powerful magnets that can pinch or perforate intestines if swallowed."
This was just the latest bad news (see box) about toys, especially those made in China, where oversight is limited. What's a parent to do? Toys made in the U.S. may be safer but tend to cost more and can be hard to find. For more information about safety, go to the Internet, says toy-safety blogger Shawn Thornsberry (magnetscankill.spaces.lives.com): "Parents really have to watch out for themselves."
Are your family's toys safe? Visit WWW.CPSC.GOV and WWW.MATTEL.COM/SAFETY