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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Toy Toxicity

Air Date: Week of

Cheap plastic children’s jewelry is five times more likely to contain elevated levels of lead than other toys. The pieces are often small enough to be ingested, delivering their toxic load to a child’s stomach. (Photo: David C. Brewster)

Before heading to the toy store this year Jeff Gearhart from the Ecology Center tells host Bruce Gellerman that parents should learn about the harmful chemicals that might be in some children’s toys. His group tested 1500 toys and discovered that a third of them were toxic.


GELLERMAN: Well ‘tis the season for Santa and shopping trips to toy store. ‘Tis also the season for scary stories about toxic toys and the safety of gifts for kids. This year, for the second time, the non-profit Ecology Center in Michigan has come out with its healthy toys list – it’s a hit list of sorts for the holiday season.

Jeff Gearhart is the toxic campaign director for the Center.

GEARHART: Well, we tested about 1500 toys and the funny thing about toys is they don’t come with ingredient lists. You can go to the grocery story and look at food or cosmetics or many other products and you can find out what’s in them. With toys, you don’t know.

GELLERMAN: So you actually test the toys to see what they’re made of.

GEARHART: Yeah. We conducted close to 50,00 tests on the toys and we identified nine different chemicals in the toys that we consider chemicals of concern. And these include obvious things like lead and mercury and cadmium as well as a handful of other chemicals that we’re concerned about.

GELLERMAN: Well what was the number of toys out of the 1500 that you tested that you considered unsafe?

GEARHART: We found that one third of the toys we tested had significant levels of the chemicals of concern that we looked at.

GELLERMAN: One third?

GEARHART: Yeah. So that’s the bad news, that’s entirely too many.

GELLERMAN: I see that topping your list of the ten worst toys for lead, there’s the Disney three heart and HM graphic necklace. A Hannah Montana toy, and my kid loves Hannah Montana. Should we not get this?

Legos were found to be made from a plastic that is safe for children.

GEARHART: Well we find jewelry is one of the most contaminated product segments out there. It is far more likely to have elevated levels of lead. We found a lot of Hannah Montana, High School Musical jewelry that had elevated levels of lead. We emphasize that it’s not just lead that is a hazard in children’s products. This year we also tested for bromine compounds in these products. Brominated flame retardants is a hazardous group of flame retardants that we look at, and we found that almost three percent or 45 of the products we tested had elevated levels of these chemicals in them. And these are completely unnecessary. You can make children’s products that comply with flame retardancy standards without the use of these chemicals.

GELLERMAN: I noticed that on your list, number five is the Wii by Nintendo.

GEARHART: Many electronics, game consoles as well as items you would not consider toys, TVs and stereos and other electronic components use flame retardants in circuit boards and other components of the electronics. And we actually found more of these compounds this year than we did last year. And that’s why we’re pushing for more broader regulatory reform.

Cheap plastic children’s jewelry is five times more likely to contain elevated levels of lead than other toys. The pieces are often small enough to be ingested, delivering their toxic load to a child’s stomach. (Photo: David C. Brewster)

GELLERMAN: Well last year Congress actually responded to your list and they’re going to change things in 2009. Now that’s next year.

GEARHART: Yes. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed this year. Its main provisions will come into effect on February 10th of 2009. All of the products that would be illegal under that regulation are actually on the shelf right now.

GELLERMAN: Now, who are the villains in this? I mean where are these products that are unsafe coming from?

GEARHART: About 80 percent of the products we tested and 80 percent of the products from the market are from China. But when we look at the statistics in terms of where we’re finding high amounts of lead or other chemicals, we actually don’t see a significant difference. The point we like to emphasize is that this is a wholesale problem and we’re seeing toys coming from all over the place with elevated levels of lead.

GELLERMAN: Well you tested 1500, toys, two-thirds of them are not bad. What are some of the good ones?

GEARHART: We recommend unpainted wood toys, the fabric toys, and plush cloth toys are good choices. And as I said before, avoiding children’s jewelry is another good choice people can make.

GELLERMAN: Well Jeff I want to thank you very much. I appreciate it.

GEARHART: Thanks for having me on.

GELLERMAN: Jeff Gearhart is the toxic campaign director of the Ecology Center – you’ll find a link to their list of safe and unsafe toys at our website – loe.org



Click here to see toy results

The Ecology Center


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