Unwrapping Cadmium? Parents Worry About Toxic Toys

Only two more shopping days before Christmas. Parents have enough to worry about between trying to find the hottest toys, watching their budgets, and fighting store crowds. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are exposing their children to toxins, but the absence of strong federal standards means they do.

Last week, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the federal agency tasked with keeping harmful consumer products out of stores, to investigate hazardous substances in children’s products and to ban the sale of products that could pose a threat to children’s health. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter backing the petition, saying that parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether the toys they buy their children could make them sick.

Toxic Toyland

The CPSC has the authority to limit the amount of hazardous substances like lead allowed in children’s products. However, its narrow definition of “children’s products” only includes toys and child care products. Jewelry, hair accessories, and many other products that may contain toxins are marketed to children but are not subject to the same standards.

As one example, the petition refers to a bracelet-making kit whose charms contain cadmium, a heavy metal known to cause cancer and lung and kidney disease. It also cites a Halloween costume for toddlers made with phthalates, chemicals that can interfere with the body’s hormones.  

Toxins like cadmium and phthalates can be harmful to anyone, but children face higher risks from toxins because these chemicals can disrupt their development. Young children also tend to put toys in their mouths, increasing their chances of exposure to these toxins.

The petition urges the CPSC to investigate the risks from toxic substances in all children’s products. It includes a list of 66 chemicals of “high concern” that the agency should investigate. There are no federal standards limiting the amount of some of these chemicals, including cancer-causing substances like benzene, allowed in toys.

State and County Efforts

In the absence of adequate federal safeguards, a number of states have taken action to protect their kids from toxins. Maine, Minnesota, and Washington have passed legislation requiring companies to disclose certain chemicals in children’s products and to ban others. Recently, New York State’s Albany County passed a bill that would ban seven hazardous chemicals from children’s products sold in the county.

Yet this patchwork legislation leaves many children across the country vulnerable. Stronger federal safeguards are needed to keep toxins out of all children’s products sold in the U.S. The CPSC needs to use the authority it has been given to investigate the occurrence of these chemicals of concern in children’s products and issue rules that will protect our nation’s children from these toxins.

Here’s a great New Year’s resolution for the CPSC: by next year’s holiday season, parents can watch their children unwrap presents knowing that their gifts are not exposing their children to toxic chemicals.

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good article, chad hatten