Manufacturers must do more to keep toxins out of our toys

Parents don’t usually expect the toys they buy to threaten their kid’s health -- especially when that toy is a smiling train from a popular kids show.

Grace Brombach

Photo: Eric Chan via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Parents don’t usually expect the toys they buy to threaten their kid’s health — especially when that toy is a smiling train from a popular kids show. But in 2007, nearly 1.5 million Thomas and Friends trains were recalled from store shelves and homes for unsafe lead levels. 

It quickly became clear that this incident was only the tip of the iceberg. In the months that followed, millions of other children’s toys were recalled for lead contamination, underlining the lack of government safeguards at the time. 

With parents, doctors and consumer advocates demanding action, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) with bipartisan support. This law made the nation’s toys safer than ever before, by defining standards for children’s products, increasing enforcement powers for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and reshaping how the U.S. deals with toxins like lead, cadmium and phthalates in its products. 

But more than a decade later, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland continues to uncover unsafe and toxic toys that parents simply don’t have the tools to detect. Manufacturers and distributors must do more to guarantee that every toy sold in stores and online complies with CPSC toxics and labeling guidelines. Additionally, the CPSC should consider implementing new standards for contaminants like boron, to guarantee that every toy lighting up a child’s face with joy is toxic-free. 

Children are inclined to put everything in their mouths, meaning they’re at a greater risk of ingesting chips of lead-based paint or other toxins. Lead is one of the most harmful toxins that can end up in kid’s toys, and children under six are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, since it can impair their mental and physical development. In August, the Wall Street Journal found hundreds of toys that failed to meet safety standards — including two toys with illegal levels of lead. Not to mention, two years ago, U.S. PIRG Education Fund uncovered a fidget spinner sold at Target with 300 times the allowable level of lead.

Toys produced before the CPSIA run a higher risk of containing illegal lead levels, and parents should not purchase them. But with new toys entering the market, often made overseas, we need toymakers and online marketplaces like Amazon to ensure that each one complies with CPSIA standards.

Borax is another dangerous toxin that is ending up in some toys. Currently, there are no toy safety standards for borax in the United States, although it has been regulated by the European Union and even banned in certain countries. The compound, commonly used in ant and roach killing devices, is also a key ingredient in popular toy slimes. 

This year, our testing revealed levels of boron, an element in borax, exceeding European Union safety standards in all slimes tested, like ESSENSON’s Galaxy Slime. Ingesting moderate to high doses of boron can cause nausea, vomiting and even long term negative effects to hormonal and reproductive health. Without warning labels, parents are unaware of the potential danger that these popular slime products pose.

The CPSC should set limits for safe levels of borax in toys and require clear warning labels that ingesting this toxin can cause a serious health risk. 

The third hidden toxin to be aware of is cadmium. Sometimes used in inexpensive jewelry, this toxin can build up in the body and lead to certain cancers, osteoporosis and other health complications as adults. In May, the Wash. attorney general highlighted more than 15,000 purchases of school supplies and kid’s jewelry contaminated with excessive lead and cadmium. 

 Companies and retailers should stop using manufacturers that may substitute in cheaper metals for gold jewelry, and the CPSC and state attorneys general should continue testing kid’s jewelry for cadmium to identify more contaminated products.

Parents and gift givers cannot have a laboratory in their homes to test for toxic contamination, nor should parents have to be the gatekeepers between these toy hazards and their children. For 34 years, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Trouble in Toyland reports have highlighted the need for stricter limits on toxics in children’s products and have driven decision-makers to enact legislation like the CPSIA. 

Now, with new toys constantly flooding online marketplaces and stores, it’s essential that manufacturers, online marketplaces and distributors double down on efforts to ensure every product that reaches a child’s hands is safe. Finally, the CPSC should continuously evaluate the need for new limits or labeling standards for toxins like boron.


Grace Brombach

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