My husband and I were standing in the toy section of Target a few weeks ago looking to buy a couple of nontoxic toys for our daughter. One aisle was designated to mostly wooden and healthier-looking toys, but the labels on them all said made in China. This wasnt a shocker about 80% of all the toys sold in this country are made in China but it made it impossible to know whether or not the toy was safe enough for my daughter to stick in her mouth. We left empty-handed and slightly frustrated.
Theres obviously been a lot written about recalled toys and what to be afraid of, and today the Michigan-based Ecology Center (along with the Washington Toxics Coalition and other leading environmental health groups across the country) released a Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys at healthytoys.org to help you navigate the confusing landscape. The nonprofit environmental group tested more than 1500 toys for lead, PVC, cadmium and other harmful chemicals, so that you can avoid mistakenly poisoning any small children this holiday season.
Unfortunately, toy manufacturers arent self-regulating strictly enough, and the government is not testing for toxic chemicals in toys, so its been left up to nonprofit organizations and consumers to take action and try to compel the federal government and toy manufacturers to get rid of the dangerous chemicals.
At healthytoys.org, you can look up how products rank from highest to lowest in terms of lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and other chemicals that are associated with reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems and cancer. Toys made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) were also tested because they often contain phthalates and other hazardous chemical additives. Babies and young children are the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals since their brains and bodies are still developing and because they tend to stick everything in their mouths.
According to the campaign director for the Ecology Center, Jeff Gearhart, the problem isnt just China and isnt just lead. He says you can get clean toys that are from China and that the real issue is finding manufacturers that have a good handle on their supply chain and can produce good products.
The database includes a section about recalled products, but Gearhart says that a small percentage of the products they tested with high levels of chemicals had actually been recalled. Says Gearhart: "This points to the inability of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to deal with the millions of products flooding into the U.S. in a meaningful way."
The Website is part resource, part consumer action guide, urging readers to sign a petition to the top five toy manufacturers asking them to adopt a corporate chemical policy, which they will then present to the manufacturers.
The site also recommends that people contact their state and national representatives to get them to have hearings on chemicals in products more general than toys.
Also, if you dont see a toy youre concerned about in the database, you can nominate that it be tested in the future.
To find out when a new toy has been recalled, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and they'll e-mail you.
Following are some other highlights of from the healthytoys.org study:
Lead: When children are exposed to lead, the developmental and nervous system consequences are irreversible. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended a level of 40 parts per million (ppm) of lead as the maximum that should be allowed in children's products. Nevertheless there are no federal regulations for lead in vinyl or plastic toys, or childrens jewelry. The only existing standard is for lead in paint. Healthytoys.org found lead in 32.2% of the products tested. Twenty-four percent (24%) of the products had levels above the 600 ppm federal recall standard used for lead paint! The testing detected more than 6,700 ppm in animal figurines, 6,000 ppm in a Hannah Montana shoulder bag, 1,931 ppm lead in a Toys R Us Geoffrey brand doll and 1,700 ppm lead in a pair of Circo baby shoes.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC/vinyl): HealthyToys.org determined products were made with PVC plastic by measuring their chlorine content. PVC is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective because it creates major hazards throughout its life cycle and contains additives that are dangerous to human health. Phthalates are chemicals that are very commonly added to PVC to make it soft and flexible; however, they can leach out of the plastic. Exposure to phthalates is linked to birth defects of the genitals and altered levels of reproductive hormones in baby boys. There are currently no federal regulations limiting phthalates in children's products. California recently passed a ban of several phthalates in childrens products, and Europe has restricted the use of phthalates in childrens toys and child care items.
Cadmium:: Cadmium is a heavy metal that is used in coatings and pigments in plastic and paint. It is a known human carcinogen, and exposure can cause adverse effects on the kidneys, lungs, liver and testes. Currently there are no restrictions on cadmium in childrens products in the U.S. Healthytoys.org found cadmium at levels greater than 100 ppm in 2.9% of products 20 products total, including painted toys, PVC toys, backpacks, lunch boxes and bibs.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.