Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Toxic Toys

The holiday season often means more food, family, and shopping. As we look for gifts for our loved ones, we have never had more resources at our disposal to make sure we are making safe, healthy decisions. And even with advances in science and technology, many consumer products are still manufactured with toxic chemicals known to cause serious health problems like cancer, developmental delays, and reproductive defects. These harms are especially concerning when they involve children’s products. Because of the way children play, they are not only exposed to chemicals in their toys through inhalation and absorption, but through ingestion as well. And because of their size, small concentrations of chemicals can have significant effects on children’s bodies, even if those concentrations are deemed safe for adults. These chemicals can have permanent, devastating consequences on children’s developing tissues and organs, For instance, phthalates are a class of chemicals common in many plastic products including toys. Exposure to these chemicals is associated with problems in reproductive development as well as brain development, including ADHD, autistic behaviors, and cognitive impairment.

In some cases, agencies like the Food and Drug Administration have been slow to incorporate new scientific information into their assessments of chemicals. In other cases, agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency have weakened regulations and actions when companies use known toxins in their products. Through this bureaucratic sluggishness and active deregulation, the federal government has failed to ensure that consumer products are only made with safe materials.

Thankfully, there are consumer advocacy groups that investigate the chemicals in common products and educate the public so they can make informed purchasing decisions. For example, the Mind the Store campaign published a retailer report card in 2019 where they rated the overall safety of products from 43 common retailers. It allows people to learn about chemicals that are used in products from retailers in many different sectors including children’s products, apparel, groceries, electronics, beauty products, and furniture. To produce their safety rating for each retailer, Mind the Store used 14 criteria including transparency, oversight, accountability, third-party standards, and continuous improvement over time, and people can see how each retailer fares along each criterion. Similar information on harmful chemicals common in toys is available from the Environmental Working Group and Green America. These consumer guides and educational resources are a powerful way to make informed decisions when buying children’s products.

In response to increased consumer advocacy and awareness about toxins in toys and packaging, many retailers now tout that their products are not made with certain harmful chemicals. While this transparency is a crucial way to keep our kids safe as we buy gifts for the holidays, only federal regulation and oversight can truly ensure that all toys are free of toxic chemicals.

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