More In This Article
Cobalt in plastic building blocks and baby bibs. Ethylene glycol in dolls. Methyl ethyl ketone in clothing. Antimony in high chairs and booster seats. Parabens in baby wipes. D4 in baby creams.
An Environmental Health News analysis of thousands of reports from America’s largest companies shows that toys and other children’s products contain low levels of dozens of industrial chemicals, including some unexpected ingredients that will surprise a public concerned about exposure.
The reports were filed by 59 large companies, including Gap Inc., Mattel Inc., Gymboree Corp., Nike Inc., H&M and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to comply with an unprecedented state law.
Stronger than any other chemical disclosure law in the United States, Washington state’s Children's Safe Product Act, enacted in 2008, has changed the right-to-know game around the country. For the first time, since September of last year, consumers have access to a searchable, online database revealing which companies report “chemicals of high concern” in products made or marketed for children.
The 66 chemicals, gleaned from lists compiled by U.S. and international agencies, were chosen because studies have linked them to cancer or to reproductive, developmental or neurological effects in animals or people.
In most cases, no one knows what, if anything, exposure to small doses of these chemicals may do to people, especially babies and toddlers who tend to chew on items or rub them on their skin. For many of these compounds, there has been little or no research to investigate children’s exposure to them.
But some health experts worry about unknown risks because it is now clear that dozens of chemicals untested for potential health effects are found in everyday items, such as clothing, footwear, furniture and toys.
"Children are uniquely vulnerable to exposures given their hand-to-mouth behaviors, floor play and developing nervous and reproductive systems," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a pediatric researcher at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children's Research Institute who advised state officials when they wrote the disclosure rules.
Manufacturers say the presence of a chemical in a product does not mean it is harmful to human health or that any safety standard is being violated.
"If a substance on the Washington state list is found in a toy or game, it doesn't automatically mean there is a risk or cause for concern. There may be no exposure to the substance whatsoever," said Alan Kaufman, senior vice president of technical affairs for the Toy Industry Association.
Officials with the state agency agree. "Simply the presence of a chemical in a product does not really say it’s causing harm to anyone," said Alex Stone, a chemist in the Washington Department of Ecology and part of the team that wrote the regulations.
Nevertheless, trying to get to the bottom of hidden chemicals in children's products was the driving force behind Washington's pioneering law. The Legislature enacted it in the wake of recalls of lead-tainted Thomas the Train sets and Sesame Street’s Elmo, among others.
Shoppers cannot look up specific toys and other items, but they can see which companies report chemicals in general categories of products. There are hundreds of searchable product types, such as train sets, clothing, baby bibs and dolls. Consumers also can search by chemicals.