Toxic Toy Crisis Requires More Action, Scientists And Advocates Say

Manufacturer recalls of toys, promotional drinking glasses, and other children’s products constitute an ongoing “toxic toys crisis” that requires banning potentially harmful ingredients in these products and other changes in policy and practices. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Monica Becker, Sally Edwards and Rachel Massey note that in June the United States government recalled 12 million promotional drinking glasses sold at a fast-food restaurant chain because the painted coating contained cadmium, a toxic metal. Since 2007, the government has recalled more than 17 million toys due to high levels of lead. The report says that these and other incidents have raised concern about the problem of toxic substances in toys and other children’s products, many of which are made overseas. The substances include ingredients either suspected or recognized as potentially damaging to children’s health.

Although government, industry, and advocacy groups have taken significant actions to solve the problem, including restricting the use of certain substances, that response remains inadequate, the scientists say.

The authors recommend several actions for the government, including banning or restricting the use of all substances with well-documented toxicity in toys and other children’s products. They also offer recommendations for how the toy industry can be proactive, including establishing an industry-wide list of toxic substances to avoid.

“Until significant changes in policy and practice occur, consumers cannot be confident that products they purchase for children are safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable,” the report states.

Separately, the consumer advocacy organization U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) notes that as their minds and bodies grow and develop, children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals that could affect proper development. Because children have a natural tendency to touch and mouth objects as a way of exploring the world around them, harmful chemicals can leach out of these products, enter their bodies and cause health problems. Chemicals have become such a close part of our lives that scientists can find more than 100 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the bodies of every mother and child.

There are now more than 83,000 industrial chemicals on the market in the United States, but very little is known about most of the chemicals in commerce, according to U.S. PIRG, which recently released its own report on toy-related dangers ahead of the holiday gift-giving season. The health effects of almost half of the major industrial chemicals have not been studied at all, the group says.

In 2008, Congress responded to an unprecedented wave of recalls of toys and other children’s products by passing the first major overhaul of the Consumer Product Safety Commission since it was established during the Nixon administration. By passing the landmark Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August 2008, Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable and speed recalls, moved toward limiting toxic lead and phthalates in certain toys and children’s products, and greatly improved import surveillance.

The CPSIA, together with stronger enforcement from the CPSC, has made good steps in the right direction toward reducing mechanical toy hazards like choking, and chemical hazards from lead and phthalates in certain products. However, there are tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that are still not regulated for the many uses in children’s lives, according to U.S. PIRG.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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