Baby/Kid Gear
1 in 3 Toys Contain Toxic Chemicals, Study Finds

1 in 3 Toys Contain Toxic Chemicals, Study Finds

January 2, 2009

By Healthy Child Staff

The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, and partners across the country today released the 3rd Annual Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys at Researchers tested nearly 700 popular 2009 children and baby products for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC, and other harmful chemicals in time to help consumers make better choices for their families this holiday shopping season.

According to researchers at, who have tested more than 4,000 children’s products over the past three years, lead has been steadily decreasing in toys. In fact, the number of products with lead exceeding current federal standards for lead in toys (300 ppm) decreased by 2/3 (67%) since 2007. However, one in three of all toys tested (32%) this holiday season still contained one or more harmful chemical including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. In addition, 18 percent of the products tested this holiday season (119 of 669) still contained detectable lead, including the Barbie Bike Flair Accessory Kit, Dora the Explorer Activity Tote, and the Kids Poncho from WalMart. PVC, a ‘worst in class’ plastic because of life cycle concerns, is still present in 42% of children’s products.

“The toxic chemicals that we find are a fraction of the thousands of chemicals that can be present in everyday products, including those intended for children,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s lead researcher, who founded “We need a major overhaul of our chemicals policies immediately to start phasing out these dangerous substances.”

At at, holiday shoppers can search for toys by product name, UPC code, product type, manufacturer, or retailer to easily find products that have No, Low, Medium, or High levels of toxic chemicals. Also available is a personalized holiday wish list that can be sent to family and friends, blog-friendly widgets in English and Spanish, a mobile application, and quick searches for toy rankings via SMS texting in English and Spanish.

In addition to toys for children and babies, testing includes shoes, belts, wallets, handbags, and backpacks. While levels of lead in toys have declined, adult and children’s apparel continues to show high levels of lead. For instance, over half of the 100 plastic handbags tested contain 1,000 ppm lead. Babies and young children are the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals since their brains and bodies are still developing and because they commonly put toys, other products, and their hands into their mouths.

Highlights from the 2009 findings:

1.  Lead Declining But Still in Toys – Lead was detected in 18% (119 out of 669) products tested by this year. In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended a level of 40 parts per million (ppm) of lead as the maximum that should be allowed in children’s products. Seven percent (44) of this year’s toys tested at levels above 40 ppm. Three percent (17) of this year’s products tested at levels above 300 ppm, the federal recall standard used for lead material substrates in children’s products.

2.  It’s Not Just Lead – Other dangerous chemicals are still found in toys. One-in-three (32%) toys tested this year contained one or more of the hazardous chemicals tested for by Of those, cadmium was found at levels greater than 100 ppm in 3.3% of products (22 of 669 total products). Arsenic was detected at levels greater than 100 ppm in 1.3% of products (9 of 669 total products).

3.  Many Plastic Toys Still Made of PVC – identifies products made of PVC by measuring their chlorine content. 42% of toys tested this year contained PVC. This percentage has remained constant for the past three years. PVC is the worst plastic from an environmental health perspective because it creates major hazards in its manufacture, product life, and disposal and can contain additives that are dangerous to human health. Lead, cadmium and other heavy metals are also commonly added to PVC products.

4.  Safe Toys are Possible – Many manufacturers are already doing it: two-thirds (68%) of the products tested in 2009 did not contain any lead, cadmium, arsenic, or mercury, including many made in China. These results show that manufacturers can make toys free of unnecessary toxic chemicals. 58% of children’s products were made without PVC.

To sample the toys, experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer that identifies the elemental composition of materials. This accurate device has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and, by many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint.

Today, the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee will hear testimony from three key federal agencies about the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the obsolete law passed in 1976 to regulate chemicals. To date, the EPA has required testing on only about 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been on the market since the law passed 33 years ago. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) are expected to introduce a new bill soon to reform this outdated law.

Also today, environmental commissioners from 13 states released principles that call for updating and strengthening TSCA while preserving state implementation and management rights. These principles include: protecting the most vulnerable including pregnant women and children; requiring manufacturers to provide health, safety, and use data on chemicals; demonstrating that chemicals in commerce are safe; identifying safer alternatives to toxic chemicals in keeping with the principles of green chemistry; and, assessing the safety of emerging chemicals of concern including nanoscale materials before they enter into widespread commerce. The following states joined in issuing the principles: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

“There is growing concern from an array of voices about our weak federal law being helpless to prevent human exposure to toxic chemicals on a daily basis,” stated Andy Igrejas, Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “The time is right to enact strong reform to our toxic chemical laws, so that we can better protect our health and our children.”

About – is based on research conducted by environmental health organizations and other researchers around the country. The Ecology Center created and leads its research and development. The Ecology Center is a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization that works at the local, state, and national levels for clean production, healthy communities, environmental justice, and a sustainable future.