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Treacherous Toys

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 10 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Toys Children Chemicals Toddler Health

Children should be able to freely learn through play, exploring a variety of stimulating toys.

But what if your toddler was putting toxic toys into their mouth and ingesting chemicals that could affect his or her long-term health?

Well, this is exactly what has happened. Until very recently, a large amount of toys were manufactured using harmful chemicals and although many have since been banned or are in the process of being phased out in Europe, there is still concern for children in other countries and for products that may be leaching into landfills or hanging around homes here in the UK.

Toxic Toy Stories

As recently as 2007, more than 18 million toys had to be recalled, including those with the CE logo (see below). In one much publicised case, a Chinese manufacturer coated tiny beads in a chemical that transformed into a lethal substance similar to the date rape drug GHB, when swallowed and several children in Australia and the US were hospitalised as a consequence.

Each Christmas the media issue warnings against buying cheap, un-named imports, highlighting the hazards of unsafe toys which could explode, shatter, or contain banned chemicals. Some of the most harmful chemicals include the following:


The cause for most concern, and the subject of a huge lobbying campaign by Greenpeace, is over the presence of an industrial group of chemicals called phthalates, found in a wide range of toys and other products.

Phthalates or ‘plasticizers’, are added to plastics (typically PVC and vinyl), to give it flexibility and durability. They were typically added to soft plastic toys, many of which a young child would be highly likely to suck or chew.

However phthalates are deemed to be ‘gender bending’ chemicals in that they disrupt the endocrine system and have been linked to genital abnormalities in baby boys as well as an increased risk of cancer asthma and kidney problems.

An emergency measure was introduced in 1999 resulting in a temporary ban in Europe. However it has taken another ten years to make the ban absolute. Even so, phthalates are still to be found in toys outside Europe and a host of other products, so is still cause for concern.


Although there are regulations in place restricting the use of lead in children’s toys in Europe, again products do slip past the sensors and the US toy market has a high percentage of toys still carrying lead content.

In the summer of 2008, the lead content in children’s toys hit the headlines as Mattel toys were forced to implement a worldwide recall of their products when high levels of lead were detected in the paint used for the toys.

Scientists have shown that when children are exposed to lead, damage done to the nervous system is permanent and irreversible and they conclude that there is ‘no safe level’ since even very low amounts, lead has the ability to interrupt brain function and impair learning. Although other scientists say lead poisoning would be rare, nevertheless they should not be found on objects designed for young children to play with.

Flame Retardant Chemicals

Many children’s toys, probably including their most treasured furry friend, are usually treated with flame retardant chemicals including bromides. None of them are nice, and some of them are particularly hazardous when accumulated over a long period of time.


How many children’s toys do you know which are battery powered?

Each year thousands of tons of batteries from kids’ toys are chucked away. When not disposed of properly, they can end up in landfill sites where the heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury can leach into the ground, polluting groundwater and damaging the environment.

If your children have toys which need batteries, make sure they are handled correctly, that they are re-charged when depleted and disposed of properly at the end of their life.


In the 1990’s the CE mark was introduced so that manufacturers could attest that the product they produced fully complied with European directives. Each toy that enters the UK should bear this label.

However the CE label is not aimed at the consumer and clear labelling for toy products is an area which still needs to be addressed in much greater detail.

If in doubt look for organic, natural products for your children as many wonderful and safe alternatives are on the market.

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