Toy season is upon us – every child’s dreams filled with dancing Wii, American Girls and Matchbox cars along with sugar plums. But one in three toys tested was found to contain toxic chemicals such as lead, flame retardants and arsenic, according to a report issued Wednesday by an Ecology Center, a Michigan-based environmental group. The group tested more than 1,500 popular toys for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC and other harmful chemicals. They said they found that one-third of the toys contain “medium” or “high” levels of chemicals of concern. Results of the study are presented at www.HealthyToys.org, a project of the Ecology Center to encourage retailers to be responsible in what kinds of products they sell.
The group said it selected toys and children’s products that attempted to represent a cross section of the most popular items used by U.S. children. Researchers bought the toys at chain stores including Target, Kmart, Toys R Us, Babies R Us, TJ Maxx, and Wal-Mart, as well as drug stores, dollar stores, on-line retailers and independent toy stores. The study found lead in 20% of the toys tested, and in 3.5% of the toys, or 54 items, levels of lead exceeded the federal recall level for paint, 600 parts-per-million. Children’s jewelry is 5 times more likely to contain lead above the toxic 600 ppm-level than other toys. In particular, the report mentioned that several Hannah Montana brand jewelry items tested high for lead.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children’s toys have less than 40 parts-per-million of lead. The levels of lead detected in “many” of the toys was “significantly” above those guidelines, according to the group.
As safety concerns have grown, so have recall of toys sold in the U.S. The number of recalls rose by 19% to 563 for the year ended Sept. 30 compared with the same period in 2007, according to research by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. The report said two-thirds of the 43 million products recalled were children’s toys, nursery items, and clothing. Imports accounted for 97% of all products taken off the market, with 81% of the products made in Chinese factories.
Congress and the U.S. toy industry took steps this year to strengthen product safety after Mattel Inc. and Spin Master had to pull millions of toys at retailers in the summer and fall of 2007. The toys were found to contain too much lead or be choking hazards. Since then, Mattel, RC2, and Spin Master have made safer toys as indicated by the Consumers Union report which said Mattel and RC2 collectively have had to recall less than 500,000 products since October 2007. In the prior fiscal year, the toy makers recalled more than 20 million toys.
Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen “have gone to court to challenge the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) decision to allow makers of children’s products containing phthalates to continue selling those goods so long as they were made before a congressional ban takes effect Feb. 10,” arguing that ban should be retroactive.
A number of brands say their toys already meet the new federal standards, including Tiny Love, Hasbro, Melissa & Doug and RC2, which includes brands such as Lamaze Infant Development System, Learning Curve and Thomas & Friends. A spokeswoman for Fisher-Price and Mattel says the “vast majority” of toys shipped since this spring meet the new standards. The Toy Industry Association says manufacturers and retailers have been rigorously testing their merchandise for the past year. Major retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys R Us/Babies R Us also plan to phase out phthalates by Jan. 1, when a California law takes effect.
Once the research and homework has been done and the toys are snug under the tree, can breathe a sign of relief? For just a moment – the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington warns that must routinely check those new toys against recall lists on the agency’s Web site, cpsc.gov. And if all those toys are stored in a conventional toy chest, be certain that the chest does not have lids that automatically slam shut when a child lets go.