The Hidden Danger in Children’s Toys

Each year, I buy my little cousins birthday gifts. When searching for the perfect toy, I consider factors such as how age appropriate the toy is and if it improves their mental development. However, I never thought I would have to consider the toxicity of the toy. Manufacturers are not required to label the chemicals in their products. I was not aware chemicals like PVC and phthalates can often be found in children’s toys, which is linked to cancer and is known to damage the immune system. Lead and cadmium, found in children’s jewelry, can be linked to brain damage. Toxins in children’s products are widely available, but not obvious to the general public unless they have studied or read about the chemicals present.

In 2014, children’s toy manufacturers listed the use of toxic chemicals in toys at least 11,000 times in their reports. The same year, it was reported that toxic chemicals, including BPA, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury, were also used in their products. Currently, there are over 80,000 chemicals used in the market, most of which have not been regulated or studied. These chemicals have the potential to harm our children’s health, causing asthma, lowering IQs, and damaging organs such as lungs, kidneys, and livers. Children have a higher risk of harm from exposure to these chemicals because of their rapidly growing bodies. In addition, children crawl, play with and put items in their mouth often. The President’s Cancer Panel stated in 2008 that cancers caused by environmental factors are widely underestimated. The Society of Toxicology warns that chemicals contain irritants that trigger asthma. Around thirty percent of developmental disorders are caused by toxic environmental exposure. With this in mind, it is important to inform our friends and families about the potential toxins we are exposed to every day.

While all children have the potential to be exposed to toxins, children living in communities of color and low-income communities have a higher chance of being exposed. Many families in these communities rely on dollar stores for items like food, clothing, and toys. However, many items at dollar stores are also highly toxic. A recent study released by The Campaign for Healthier Solutions found that a majority of dollar store products have at least one toxic chemical in them. The same study found that over thirty percent of vinyl products contained a level of phthalates that were above what the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends for children’s products. People of color and low-income communities already live near chemical facilities at higher rates and experience more health impacts linked to chemical exposure. Additional exposure from products in dollar stores further adds to unequal health outcomes in Environmental Justice communities.

What can you do to ensure your children are using the best products for their health?

Parents or those buying products for children should not have to be experts in chemistry to protect their children from exposure to chemicals. All children’s products should be free of toxins. Current regulations need to be more stringent in order to protect children from toxic chemicals. The states Maine and Washington have legislation in place to decrease the exposure to chemicals through children’s products, but unfortunately, there are no such laws in other states or at the federal level that require manufacturers of children’s products to label or ban toxic chemicals in those products. Therefore, it is important to advocate for toxin-free children’s products. Before going to a store, families can research the healthiest products for their children. Many websites offer databases with information on children’s toys. Purchasing products that are free of toxins will also signal to manufacturers that these products are important to families. Families can also speak with their state, local, or government official and businesses to share their stories on why toxin-free products are important. Lastly, we encourage families to find their local environmental justice organization that may be working on this issue and to get involved. We hope these actions lead to safer health outcomes for their families.

This February WE ACT partnered with Children’s Environmental Health Network for Health Equity Month. Click here to find more information and what you can do to prevent toxic exposure from children’s products.


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