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Toxic Toy Story

Research and developed by Sarah (Steve) Mosko, Ph.D.
Updated Nov. 2004. For references click here.

Historically, soft children's toys, including those meant for teething, have been made from PVC. In its native state PVC is hard, so softeners or "plasticizers" are added to give products the desired texture and pliability. Phthalates have been the universal plasticizers used in soft children's toys, typically accounting for 10% - 40% of the weight of the plastic material.(60) Since phthalates are not chemically bound to the plastic resin polymer (they're just "mixed in"), they are free to migrate or leach out under certain conditions (e.g. during sucking or chewing). Although most discussion of phthalates in PVC toys has focused on toys designed specifically for mouthing by infants, a broader concern for all toys stems from the fact that infants rather indiscriminately mouth many types of objects, not just those meant for sucking or chewing.

United States

In Feb. 2003, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) handed down a formal refusal to ban PVC plastic from young children's toys. They also refused to issue a health warning. Previously, the CPSC had issued a Dec. 1998 "voluntary" (non-enforceable) ban on PVC pacifiers, nipples, rattles and teething toys in response to a Nov. 1998 citizens' petition to ban PVC from products intended for children under 5 yrs. This effectively removed DEHP and DINP (diisononyl phthalate) only from products specifically intended for oral use; children mouthing other objects could still be exposed. DINP is suspected of causing effects on the liver, kidney and reproductive tract similar to DEHP (see ref. 60 for discussion).

In 1986, the U.S. toy industry had switched from DEHP to DINP in PVC toys in response to a "voluntary" agreement between the industry and the CPSC to limit DEHP. The switch to DINP occurred without safety testing, and DINP is known to cause liver and kidney damage. Available, non-PVC plastics alternatives were not pursued. A year 2000 sampling of PVC toys from around the world revealed high concentrations of some other phthalates (diisooctyl phthalate and diisodecyl phthalate) in some toys, as well as measurable levels of the estrogenic compound nonylphenol in a fifth of the toys sampled. Toys were only infrequently labeled as containing PVC.(60)

In Greenpeace's "2003 Toy Report Card," only about half of the toy manufacturers surveyed earned an "A" that indicated they were phasing out (or had already) all PVC products (www.greenpeace.org). Toy manufacturers are not required to label PVC toys or to list any additives used.

European Union

In 1999, the EU first instituted an emergency temporary ban on several phthalates (DEHP, DINP, DBP, DIDP, DNOP, BBP) in articles intended for oral use in children under 3 yrs of age (stating that phthalates "are liable to present a serious and immediate risk to health"). Also, Japan issued a ban on DINP in toys that might be mouthed by children under age 6 yrs in Aug. 2002.

Other Toy Toxins
PVC contains chlorine, and because chlorine can degrade the plastic, stabilizers are added to PVC products. Researchers at Greenpeace have focused on two common stabilizers found in PVC toys, lead and cadmium, both of which are highly toxic. Permanent brain damage with lowered IQ results from even low dose exposure to lead. Cadmium is known to cause kidney damage and possibly cancer. In 1997, Greenpeace scientists found that several of the PVC products they sampled, including some intended for children, contained lead or cadmium at levels near or above safety limits set by the U.S. government.(64) Later that year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission concluded that the levels of these poisons in children's products were safe.(65)

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