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Dec 022009

From Green Right Now Reports

The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, today released a report showing that one in three of all toys — including some children’s plastic purses, jewelry, toy trains and apparel  –  tested this holiday season contained one or more harmful chemical including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury.

Dangerous Dora -- This "Explorer Pack" tested high for arsenic and lead.

Dangerous Dora -- This "Explorer Pack" tested high for arsenic and lead in a November test.

(See some of the worst offenders from the 2009 list of “High Concern” toys here.)

The Center, working with partners across the country, released its findings in the 3rd Annual Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys at www.HealthyStuff.org. Researchers tested nearly 700 popular 2009 children’s products for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC, and other harmful chemicals.

According to researchers, who have tested more than 4,000 children’s products over the past three years, lead has been steadily decreasing in toys.  The number of products with lead exceeding current federal standards for lead in toys (300 ppm) has decreased 67 percent since 2007.

However, 32 percent of the toys tested for this holiday season still contained one or more harmful chemical including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury.

In addition, 18 percent of the products tested this holiday season (119 of 669) still contained detectable lead, including the Barbie Bike Flair Accessory Kit, Dora the Explorer Activity Tote, and the Kids Poncho from WalMart.

PVC, considered a “worst in class” plastic because of life cycle concerns, continues to be found in 42 percent of children’s products.

“The toxic chemicals that we find are a fraction of the thousands of chemicals that can be present in everyday products, including those intended for children,” Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s lead researcher and founder of HealthyStuff.org, said in a statement. “We need a major overhaul of our chemicals policies immediately to start phasing out these dangerous substances.”

Holiday shoppers can obtain the findings on popular toys by going to the HealthyStuff.org web site.  Consumers can search for toys by product name, UPC code, product type, manufacturer, or retailer to find products that have “No, Low, Medium,” or “High” levels of toxic chemicals.

Beware the Singing Puppy. This one tested high for lead, arsenic and bromine.

Beware the Singing Puppy. This one tested high for lead, arsenic and bromine in early 2009.

In addition to toys, HealthyStuff.org tests products such as shoes, belts, wallets, handbags and backpacks. While levels of lead in toys have declined, adult and children’s apparel continues to show high levels of lead. For instance, over half of the 100 plastic handbags tested contain more than 1,000 ppm lead.

Babies and young children are the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals since their brains and bodies are still developing and because they commonly put toys, other products, and their hands into their mouths.

However, the researchers stressed that many manufacturers are producing safe toys. Two-thirds (68 percent) of the products tested in 2009 did not contain any lead, cadmium, arsenic, or mercury, including many made in China. These results show that manufacturers can make toys free of unnecessary toxic chemicals and 58 percent of children’s products were made without PVC.

To sample the toys, HealthyStuff.org said its experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer that identifies the elemental composition of materials. The device has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and many state and county health departments use this method to screen for residential lead paint.

Today, the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from three key federal agencies about the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – passed in 1976 to regulate chemicals. To date, the EPA has required testing on only about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since the law passed 33 years ago. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) are expected to introduce a new bill soon to reform this outdated law.

Also today, environmental commissioners from 13 states released principles that call for updating and strengthening Act while preserving state implementation and management rights.  California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington endorsed the principles, which include:

  • protecting the most vulnerable including pregnant women and children
  • requiring manufacturers to provide health, safety, and use data on chemicals
  • demonstrating that chemicals in commerce are safe
  • identifying safer alternatives to toxic chemicals in keeping with the principles of green chemistry
  • assessing the safety of emerging chemicals of concern including nanoscale materials before they enter into widespread commerce

Oct 302009

Green Right Now Reports

Illinois’ PIRG, a non-profit public interest group, released results of recent testing for toxic chemicals on toys this week, finding that three items intended for children exceeded current safety standards, and two products contact phthalates in violation of federal law.

The tested toys and products can be seen at HealthyToys.org, where they will be incorporated into a much larger list. Researchers at HealthyToys.org are readying a long list of items that will be available on Dec. 2, in time for the winter holidays.

“After the wave of record recalls of dangerous toys just two years ago, we’re glad to see that most of the toys we tested are in compliance with the law,” said Brian Imus, director of Illinois PIRG and an author of the report. “But not all toys are safe and we must do more to prevent toxic toys from ending up on store shelves.”

For more specifics, the PIRG referred people to the list at HealthyStuff.org.

HealthyStuff.org research director Jeff Gearhart said that it was “disappointing” that the early testing still found “significant problems in jewelry.”

Based on that, he said the group would maintain its standing cautionary position on kids costume jewelry, which has been found to contain lead in previous studies, as did two pieces vetted in this latest round of tests. HealthyStuff advises parents to forego the glitzy, inexpensive jewelry, for now.

But, he added, “the initial snapshot (of toys tested in Illinois) shows we’re seeing some overall improvement in toys this year, and we’ll know more once we get a larger sample.”

For the past three years, the group has tested thousands of toys, typically more than 700 before the holidays.

On the preview list of 87 toys released by the PIRG, at least three toys exceed the safe and allowable level of lead, which is set at 300 parts per million, down from the previously allowed 600 parts per million. (Pictures of the toys were not available.)

Two of the offending items are sold at Claire’s, a costume jewelry store that targets tweens and teens

The first is a Halloween item described as a LOVE Pink Block cell phone accessory. The other is a pair of clip-on dangling “diamond” earrings that registered a high reading of lead of 26,692 parts per million.

Another  item that tested above safe limits for lead is a toy car by Marvel Hot Rodz with a Spiderman head that tests showed contained more than six times the allowable levels.

Lead exposure has long been known to cause health problems in developing children, even causing cognitive issues. HealthyStuff.org, however, warns that just because a chemical is detected in a toy, doesn’t mean there’s been direct exposure to it. For more info on why HealthyStuff tests for certain chemicals and how they can affect childrens’ bodies when there is direct contact, see the Chemicals of Concern introduction on their website.

In a news release, PIRG also called out the problem of products that contain phthalates, which turn up in plastics and cosmetics are known to cause “a wide array of harm to the human body; from reproductive defects in men and women, premature birth, early onset puberty for young girls, and lower sperm counts in men.”

However, because HealthyStuff.org does not list phthalates among the toxic components it tests for, people cannot currently reference these products.

The Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group), part of a federation of PIRGs nationally, called for better regulation to catch violators before they make it to market.

The good news? Most of the toys tested are being rated as having a “low” level of hazardous chemical content.