Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Toys

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Arsenic, bisphenol A (BPA), bromine, cadmium, cobalt, ethylene glycol, lead, mercury, methyl ethyl keton, parabens, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, and tin are among the approximately 80,000 chemicals used in manufacturing, including in many toys and other children’s products.

A “children’s toy” is defined by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as a consumer product intended for a child who is 12 years old or younger. The CPSC, the government agency charged with protecting the public from risks of injury or death from the use of consumer products, regulates only 14 chemicals in children’s toys: eight heavy metals and six phthalates. The metals limited in allowable amounts — but not banned — are: Antimony (Sb), Arsenic (As), Barium (Ba), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), and Selenium (Se).

Exposure to lead, for example, can harm brain development, with effects including reduced IQ, reduced ability to pay attention, and delayed learning. As of August 2011 the current federal legal limit of lead was in children’s toys was lowered to 100 parts per million (ppm); however, exposure to lead at even low levels is considered unsafe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all children be screened for exposure to lead using a simple and inexpensive blood test.

toxic chemicals in children's toys

Unlike food manufacturers, toy producers are not required by law to provide a list of chemicals used in their products. However, to reduce exposure to certain chemicals, concerned consumers can use the recycling codes on plastic products to determine content. Products marked #7 is a polycarbonate plastic and contains BPA. Products marked #3 is a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and contains potentially harmful phthalates. Additionally, there is some concern that older products manufactured before regulations were enacted may pose additional hazards.

Plastic toy kitchenware image from BigStock.

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