If there are two words that should surely not lay in close proximity to each other, "toxic" and "toys" are they. Yet headlines including the words "toxic toys" have been everywhere for the past few weeks triggered by an independent investigation in the US that claimed to have found high levels of the toxic metal antimony in not just any toy, but the Mr Squiggles version of the Zhu Zhu Pets Go Go Hamster toy, set to become the biggest selling Christmas toy ever with some stores having already sold out weeks ago in the US, UK and other countries.
The consumer watch group GoodGuide tested the Mr Squiggles version of the cute little Go Go Hamster toy and found antimony at levels of 93ppm (parts per million) in its fur and 103ppm in its nose. In the US the Federal legal limit for antimony is 60ppm.
Co-founder of GoodGuide and associate professor of environmental science at the University of California in Berkeley, Dara O'Rourke, tested Zhu Zhu Pets for chemicals with his group, and reported that they have elevated levels of tin and antimony. He said: "If ingested in high enough levels [antimony] can lead to cancer, reproductive health, and other human health hazards".
An early sign of antimony exposure that occurs with contact exposure is an itchy skin rash known as 'antimony spots'.
Zhu Zhu Pets are made in China, but the company, Cepia LLC, is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Chief Executive Russ Hornsby said in a statement: "We want to assure everyone already enjoying Mr Squiggles or other Zhu Zhu Pets, and those planning to purchase Mr Squiggles or another Zhu Zhu Pet this holiday season, that the toy is 100% safe and in compliance with all US and European toy safety standards." The company has supplied GoodGuide with their own testing data.
A reader of this story on the subject comments: "Apparently the "Good Guide" people can't even read the standards. They are confusing content with migration. What's important is the amount of antimony that can come out of the toy, not the amount that is in it."
Now I am yet to be a father but it hasn't escaped my attention that children are AlWAYS licking and chewing on their toys. Surely then, if there is significant antimony in a toy then kids will find a way to get at it and ingest it.
Dara O'Rourke of GoodGuide agrees, saying "The biggest danger is from a toddler or young child putting the toy in their mouth. If too much of the chemical is ingested it could lead to cancer or other health problems."
The argument for me is not over how much of a toxic substance such as antimony should be permitted in toys but if these substances should be allowed at all. I for one say not and I am sure most parents reading would agree!
Zhu Zhu Pets are not the only toys to be a source of potential danger either. Some children's toys carrying the Barbie and Disney logos have reportedly been found with high levels of lead in them, according to The Center for Environmental Health, a California-based consumer advocacy group. They tested about 250 children's products bought at major retailers and found lead levels that exceeded federal limits in seven of them. Lead is another toxic metal which has particularly detrimental effects on the brain and nervous system, therefore having the potential to cause developmental disorders in exposed children. Higher blood lead levels have also been associated with higher rates of depression and panic disorders in young adults.
Among those with high lead levels include the Disney Tinkerbell Water Lily necklace; Barbie Bike Flair Accessory Set; Dora the Explorer Activity Tote; TKS girl's sandals from Sears; Walmart kids poncho; Walmart Faded Glory girl's shoes; and Cherokee boys belt.
Parents wishing to check the toxicity of toys before purchasing them for their children this Christmas may wish to take a look at www.HealthyStuff.org , the website of an organisation that researchers levels of toxic chemicals in consumer goods.
So although strictly regulations on toys, particularly on inports from China, there is clearly still a problem with toxic toys. Parents should be aware of this and use resources such as HealthyStuff.org to make sure they are protecting their children as best as they can.
Best wishes for a happy and toxin-free Christmas for all the family from The Environmental Illness Resource!
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.