Sorry, Kiddos—Your Toy Box Is Chock Full of Chemicals

The Oregon legislature is up against industry giants in the fight to protect children from toxic toys.

toxic toys

Toxic toys make for a chemically dangerous playtime. (Photo: Getty Images)

The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

Not all toys are created equal.

Dora the Explorer backpacks, Baby’s 2nd birthday balloons, dragster cars, and more have come under fire for containing potentially dangerous toxics like lead, cadmium, and phthalates. Annual consumer reports by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) have uncovered dozens of toxic toys that pose possible hazards to young bodies and minds.

Concerned parents have long been advocating for rigorous regulation that protects children from toxic toys. Now one state is considering action.  

The Oregon state legislature has introduced a bill to phase out potentially toxic substances from children’s products sold in the state. If passed, the bill will instruct the Oregon Health Authority to track and make public information about the health impacts of “chemicals of concern.” 

In addition, the law would require that companies with annual sales over 5 million report which of their products contain toxic substances of concern, and phase out the use of those chemicals over a period of five years unless they qualify for a waiver from the state.

No federal agency tests all toys before they wind up on store shelves, so parents and caregivers must remain vigilant about reading labels and researching the products they purchase for their children, PIRG has written

Now, if Oregon lawmakers succeed, the law could affect a wide range of toys, sports gear, car seats, and children’s cosmetics. Chemicals that would be listed include lead, cadmium, Bisphenol A, formaldehyde, and dozens more that are listed in Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality database. 

Those backing the bill in Oregon are facing a formidable foe. The chemical and toy industries openly oppose the legislation, arguing that existing federal regulations do enough to protect children and parents.  

“The mere presence of a chemical in a product does not mean that it can cause harm to a child,” Jennifer Gibbons of the Toy Industry Association said in testimony at a hearing. “If those chemicals are in a product, that doesn’t necessarily mean it causes harm, because then you have to look at exposure and then you have to look at risk.”

Jenn Baker, of the Oregon Nurses Association, says that the waiver application represents a good compromise for industry while also ensuring that children and their families are safe.

“After a chemical has been maintained on the list for 5 years, a manufacturer can apply for a waiver to not remove the chemical from their product, as long as they can prove that the chemical is not going to harm a child,” she said in an interview with TakePart.

The Oregon Nurses Association, which represents 13,000 nurses across the state, testified in support of the bill.

“A lot of the nurses we work with are very impassioned about this issue, in particular because the families that they tend to work with are lower income, lower education, and not necessarily in a position to know that they should go out and do research about products before purchasing them for their children,” Baker said.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has estimated that at least 4 million households with children are exposed to lead, and that half a million children have levels of lead in their blood that are above the CDC’s recommended limit. Lead can affect nearly every system in the body, according to the CDC. 

The 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found detectable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in the urine of 93 percent of the more than 2,500 people tested, suggesting widespread exposure to BPA in the U.S. population.

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