Toxins Present in One-Third of Toys

Toxins Present in One-Third of Toys

Of the 1,500 toys tested for toxic substances by the Ecology Center, one in three had significant levels of lead, mercury, cadmium or other chemicals.

The chemical makeup of products, especially toys and children's items, continues to be a major focal point for non-profits like the Michigan-based Ecology Center, environmental groups and parents.

While much of the blame for deadly toys in recent years was placed on Chinese manufacturers, the Ecology Center points out that this year, in its second round of testing for its database, it's not just China making unsafe toys. Twenty-one percent of toys from China had detectable levels of lead, but so did 16 percent of toys from all other countries. And of the 17 toys made in the United States that were tested, 35 percent had detectable levels of lead, with two exceeding the federal limit for recalls.

Overall, lead was detected in 20 percent of toys, and 54 products exceeded the U.S.'s limit for lead paint recalls, and others exceed the new Consumer Product Safety Commission standards that will begin to go into effect in February.

The most contaminated products tested by the Ecology Center were kid's jewelry. Fifteen percent of jewelry items had lead levels above 600 parts per million (ppm), the federal recall limit. Only three percent of other types of products exceeded that threshold.

Some companies have recently agreed to accelerate adoption of the new limits under a settlement between them and California Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. and Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. The two filed suit against 17 toy makers in 2007 over lead-contaminated toys.

Mattel and its subsidiary Fisher-Price, RC2 , A&A Global Industries, Cranium Inc., Eveready Battery Company, Marvel Entertainment, Toy Investments, Kids II and Amscan have agreed to not sell toys with high lead content beginning Dec. 1, 2008. Some have agreed to quick adoption of the new federal rules, which lower the limit for lead paint to 90 ppm and the limit for lead in plastic, metal and fabric to 300 ppm. While a couple companies will adhere to the federal phase-in, which puts those limits into effect by Aug. 14, 2009, the rest have agreed to adopt those limits immediately.

Of the toys tested by the Ecology Center, a Hannah Montana necklace (above, left) had the highest lead level, at more than 406,000 ppm. A pumpkin pin made in the U.S. (above, right) is a multiple offender, with about 191,000 ppm of lead; 3,800 ppm of cadmium; and 4,700 ppm of arsenic.

Overall, 45 products were found to contain bromine (which indicates the use of brominated flame retardants), 289 had arsenic, 38 included cadmium, 62 contained mercury and 27 percent of toys excluding jewelry included PVC, a concern because it contains additives like phthalates.

On the other hand, a majority of toys had no or low levels of chemicals. More than 950 toys had low levels of chemicals of concern and 324 were toxin-free.

The Ecology Center provides a searchable database of all the toys at, and is accepting requests for toys to test in the coming weeks. The company tests toys with a portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer, which identifies the elemental components of materials on or near the surface of products.

As the recalls of past years and news about various chemicals show, consumers will switch away from items they feel can be dangerous, especially when it comes to their kids.

The case of bisphenol A (BPA) is one example of where, even though there is no federal regulation outlawing the use of BPA, retailers and manufactures are switching to or providing BPA-free baby bottles, food containers and other items, partially because of scientific research, and partially because consumers have demanded BPA-free products.