We hear about toxic elements in children's toys, food and clothing all the time, but not always know exactly what they mean. We did some research, and here is the explanation for the most common elements: PVC, Phthalates, BPA, Mercury, Lead, Cadmium.
Detection of chlorine in a toy component indicates the likely use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or vinyl, a widely used type of plastic. PVC is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle, from production to disposal. Besides being a carcinogen, at the end of a product's life, PVC can create dioxin when burned, PVC is not easily recycled. Phthalates are used in many plastics, especially PVC products, as a softening agent to make the plastic flexible. Lead and other heavy metals are sometimes used as a stabilizer or to impart other properties to PVC plastic.
Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals that add flexibility and resilience to many consumer products. Phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can leach, migrate or evaporate into indoor air and atmosphere, foodstuff, other materials, etc. Consumer products containing phthalates can result in human exposure through direct contact and use, indirectly through leaching into other products, or general environmental contamination. Humans are exposed through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure. It is found in tablecloths, furniture, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, wall papers, garden hoses, inflatable swimming pools, plastic clothing such as raincoats, children's toys, automobile upholstery and tops, medical tubing, and blood storage bags.
Animal studies show that phthalates are as toxic as PVC itself, causing cancer, thyroid and kidney diseases, possibly due to their effects on the endocrine system. Being fat-soluble, they also tend to accumulate in the body. Steps have already been taken to ban phthalates from plastic nipples on baby-bottles, children’s toys and plastic tubing for hospital use.
BPABisphenol A, is used in a wide variety of products including plastic bottles and food can liners. More than 90% of Americans have detectable BPA in their bodies. Studies show potential effects on the brain, behavior and prostate in fetuses, infants and children.
Mercury is a metallic element. Its compounds are often used in inks, adhesives, and as a catalyst in reactions to form polyurethanes. Mercury can exist in different forms and some forms are more toxic than others. Methylmercury is a form of mercury that is particularly hazardous to the developing brain. The main pathway of exposure to methylmercury is from eating contaminated fish and it is unlikely that this form would be present in children's toys. However, the use of mercury in children's products means potential exposure of workers to this compound and release to the environment when the product is discarded. Mercury is a persistent toxic chemical that can build up in the body.
Lead is a heavy metal that continues to be used in a wide variety of consumer products. Lead is often used as a stabilizer in PVC products and for pigmentation in paint, rubber, plastics, and ceramics. Lead's chemical properties also make it easy to use in castings of metal products such as jewelry
Scientists have found there is no safe level of lead for children - even the smallest amount effects a child's ability to learn.
Cadmium is a heavy metal used as a stabilizer in PVC and in coatings and pigments in plastic and paint. Cadmium exposure is associated in animal studies with developmental effects, including possible decreases in birth weight, delayed sensory-motor development, hormonal effects, and altered behavior. Cadmium can cause adverse effects on the kidney, lung and intestines. It is classified as a known human carcinogen, associated with lung and prostate cancer.