Toxic Toys: A Consumer Action Guide


Toxic ToyWith the holiday season upon us, many parents are justifiably concern about toxic toys. Holiday favorites, including Hannah Montana & Circo, are being found contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals, including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and PVC! The good news is there is a consumer action guide now avaiable at where the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, released the results of their testing of 1,200 popular children’s toys for toxic chemicals

Working with environmental health groups across the country, the Ecology Center led the development of the site to inform consumers about products they will be purchasing this holiday season. Parents and other holiday shoppers can now easily search by product name, brand, or toy type to learn how the products rate in terms of harmful chemical content.

Toxic Toy“The government is not testing for toxic chemicals in toys, and too many manufacturers are not self-regulating, so we created the nation’s first toy database to help inform and empower consumers,” said Tracey Easthope, MPH, Director of the Ecology Center’s Environmental Health Project. “Ultimately consumers need to compel the federal government and toy manufacturers to eliminate dangerous chemicals from toys.”

Researchers chose to test these particular chemicals because they have been identified by regulatory agencies as problematic, and because of their association with reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems and cancer and because they are found in children’s products. Babies and young children are the most vulnerable since their brains and bodies are still developing and because they frequently put toys in their mouths. The testing was conducted with a screening technology – the X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer – which identifies elemental composition of materials on the surface of products.

Toxic Toy“Toxic chemicals have no place in children’s toys, period,” said Ted Schettler, MD, Science Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Even low-level toxic chemical exposures can have lifelong impacts. Getting toxic chemicals out of children’s toys is a moral and medical imperative.” tested 1,200 children’s products and more than 3,000 components of those products.

Following are highlights of the findings:

Toxic ToyLead — 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, plastic toys or children’s jewelry. The only existing standard is for lead in paint. found lead in 35% of products tested. Seventeen percent (17%) of the products had levels above the 600 ppm. The federal recall standard for lead paint is 600 ppm. The testing detected more than 6,700 ppm in Dollar Store animal figurines; 3,056 ppm in a Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Pack; and 1,700 ppm lead in a pair of Circo baby shoes.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC / Vinyl) — determined products were made with PVC plastic by measuring their chlorine content. PVC is a problematic plastic from an environmental health perspective because it creates major hazards throughout its life cycle and contains additives that can be 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 children’s products, and Europe has restricted the use of phthalates in children’s toys and child care items. 47% percent of toys (excluding jewelry) tested by were PVC.

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 mandatory restrictions on cadmium in children’s products in the U.S. found cadmium at levels greater than 100 ppm in 2.9% of products — 22 of the 764 products tested for cadmium– including painted toys, PVC toys, backpacks, lunch boxes and bibs.

Arsenic – Arsenic is a heavy metal that can be present in both organic and inorganic molecules. It is not clear why arsenic is in children’s products, though it may be used in textiles and plastics in dyes. Arsenic was detected at levels greater than 100 ppm in 2.2% (17 out of 764) products tested for arsenic. also tested toys for mercury, bromine, chromium, tin and antimony — chemicals that have all been linked to health problems and have been subject to either regulatory restrictions or voluntary limits set by industry associations or third party environmental organizations.

“With all of the toy recalls it is becoming increasingly difficult to shop for children,” said Alexandra Zissu, co-author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy and mother of a 22-month-old girl. “ eliminates fear of the unknown and allows parents to make better decisions about the products we’re buying.”

The good news is that safe toys are possible. 28% of the products tested did not contain any lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury or PVC, including many made in China. Examples of healthier toys include: Amazing Animals Hippo by Fisher-Price (made in China); Caterpillar Grasping Toy by Melissa and Doug (made in Vietnam); and B.R. Bruin Stacking Cups (made in China).

These results show that manufacturers can make toys free of unnecessary toxic chemicals. provides specific guidelines for how to petition federal and state government agencies and toy manufacturers to urge them to phase out toxic chemicals from toys immediately.

With millions of toys on the market it was impossible to test them all, however visitors to can nominate other products to be tested. The most commonly requested items will be tested each week leading up to the Holidays.

Michigan is critical to the national debate on toxic chemicals; several bills are pending in the Michigan Legislature that would phase-out specific toxicants, and Congressman John Dingell chairs the Congressional Committee charged with overseeing chemical regulation. The Michigan Legislature is moving a package of legislation (HB4132 & 4399; SB 174) that penalizes retailers for selling children’s products with lead levels exceeding the federal recall limits of 600 ppm.

“That’s a good start, but it’s not just children’s products and it’s not just lead that are problematic,” said Mike Shriberg, Ph.D., Policy Director for the Ecology Center. “Michigan Legislators need to take immediate, aggressive action to protect our children from all hazardous chemicals.”

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One Comment on “Toxic Toys: A Consumer Action Guide

  1. Choosing “safe” toys for children has gotten a lot harder recently. I always encourage parents and grantparents concerned about toy safety to play it safe and buy toys made in the USA.

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