Toxins in Toys Prompts new Recommendations

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Recent recalls of toys from harmful chemicals such as lead and other toxins have created a “toxic toy” crisis, according to Monica Becker, Sally Edwards and Rachel Massey, sustainability consultants writing in the ACS' Environmental Science & Technology publication. Toxins found in children’s toys and recent recall of jewelry containing cadmium have prompted the analysts to call for new recommendations from the government and the manufacturing industry.

The authors cite the June 2010 recall of 12 million toxic cadmium coated glasses from a well known fast food chain. In the past three years, the government has issued 17 million toy recalls from lead that can cause neurodevelopment disorders and is still found in our soil, posing potential hazard to children.

They also note a 2007 toy recall of more than 1.5 million wooden trains units because of lead paint that violated US standards. The researchers say the problem of toxic toys has “yet to be solved.” Cadmium found in children’s jewelry has renewed a passion toward making toys safer.

Response to Toxins in Toys “Reactive and Piecemeal”

Though the government has taken action to hold toy manufacturers accountable, the authors say “much of the response to the ‘toxic toy crisis’ has been reactive and piecemeal.” The US toy industry has tried to conform, but violations still occur. Existing regulations do not restrict harmful chemicals in toys without extensive data.


“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists over 80,000 chemicals in its Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) inventory, but few have been adequately tested for safety. Under TSCA, extensive hazard and exposure data are needed before EPA can act to restrict the use of chemicals. Historically, even when the link between exposure to a chemical and illness or injury is well documented, EPA has done little to restrict its use”, write the authors. Just because a toxin is in a toy, it doesn’t mean it will be banned.

Toys that are designed and marketed in developed countries are then outsourced for production overseas. The complexity of global supply chains “creates pressure for companies to externalize environmental and social costs, resulting in unsafe working conditions, environmental pollution, and a drive toward using the cheapest and often toxic materials”, explain the authors.

The authors recommend the government and toy industry ban or restrict toxins in children’s toys, label harmful chemicals in toys and develop an accessible database, require chemical manufacturers, rather than the government, to disclose chemical toxicity information and promote design and development of safer toys by providing incentives. They also suggest the government support green chemistry and research in addition to expanding the EPA’s Green Chemistry and Design for Environment programs.

The toy industry should work with government toward the same goals, engage openly with stakeholders, partner with “green” organizations, identify and test chemicals in toys for toxicity and work toward ensuring toys are healthy and safe over time. “Eliminating hazardous chemicals from children’s products, while a critical goal, does not ensure that these products are safe, healthy, and environmentally sound throughout their life cycles”, note the authors.

The conclusions from the analysis state that until major policy changes occur, “consumers cannot be confident that products they purchase for children are safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable.” “Toxic toys” have become a growing concern. Despite efforts from the government, manufacturers and advocacy groups, there is still much to be done. For a list of safe toys, visit GoodGuide.

Environmental Science and Technology