U.S. toy study finds toxic substances

Seven hundred products geared toward children have tested positive for high levels of toxic substances, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, a U.S. study shows.

Seven hundred products geared toward children have tested positive for high levels of toxic substances, including lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury, a new U.S. study released on Wednesday shows.

Researchers for the Ecology Center, a health-advocacy group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., tested the products and released their findings in a yearly report issued in time for the holiday shopping season.

The products tested include toys, clothing and jewelry that could be purchased for children as gifts. The group said the toxic substances they contain can cause developmental problems in children and are linked to cancer.

Many of them are inexpensive items made in China for sale in North America.

Some of the products listed as being of "high" concern are:

  • High School Musical argyle belt: tested to have high levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic.
  • Disney Princess Sandals: found to have high levels of bromine.
  • Marvel Hot Rodz cars: high levels of lead.
  • Cupcake clip watch: high levels of cadmium.

And while the study says the amount of lead found in toys has waned over past years, there's a lot of room to do better in other items. 

"Since 2007, there's been an incredible focus on toxic chemicals in toys, resulting in an improvement in the level of lead used in toys," said Ecology Center lead researcher Jeff Gearhardt.

But looking at other children's items, "we find still high levels of lead and other chemicals showing up," he said.

The Canadian Toy Association said Wednesday the study's list of products with high levels of toxins contains only a small number of toys, and problem items are mostly children's apparel like plastic ponchos, jewelry and bicycle accessories.

The association said major retailers like Wal-Mart have removed toys proven to be high in toxic substances and recommends people avoid "dollar stores" when shopping for children's items.

Still, Gearhardt said he thinks a "major overhaul" of chemical policies is needed to phase out the dangerous substances.

Nearly half of tested toys contain PVC

The study said of key concern is the use of the plastic called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, in some items.

It said 42 per cent of toys tested for the 2009 report contained PVC, a statistic that has remained constant over the last three years.

The centre said PVC is the "worst plastic" from an environmental health perspective and can contain additives hazardous to human health as well.

Janelle Witzel of Toronto-based group Environmental Defence said many soft vinyl toys contain harmful phthalates, a family of chemicals used to make PVC.

"Some plastics are better or worse than others," Witzel said. "That's why we often advise parents to contact manufacturers to see exactly what their products are made of."

The federal government said in June it would introduce new regulations to prevent the use of certain chemicals in soft vinyl toys and child-care-related articles, and also reduce lead limits in all consumer products.