Scared and horrified.
Thats an Ohio pet owners reaction to a ConsumerAffairs.com story that revealed what a forensic toxicologist called elevated levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium in two Chinese-made pet toys sold at Wal-Mart.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought one of those toys for my two dogs, pet owner Karen N. told us. Now Im really afraid because (the forensic toxicologist) in the article said the toy could shorten my dogs lives. This makes me sick.
Our story also convinced the Middlefield, Ohio, woman that:
• National standards are needed for safe and acceptable levels of lead and other heavy metals in toys for dogs and cats. Many in the pet industry have called for such standards in the wake of our report;
• The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) or some other governmental body should regulate pet toys. Currently, no federal agency regulates these products even though adults and young children handle them;
• Pet product manufacturers should make dog and cat toys that only have ingredients from the United States. I had no idea that China made just about every pet toy thats in this country . . . I cant find any dog toys that China doesnt make.
• Pet owners should discuss this issue with their veterinarians and with their children's pediatricians.
In September, ConsumerAffairs.com hired ExperTox Analytical Laboratory to analyze four Chinese-made pet toys we bought at Wal-Mart -- two for dogs and two for cats -- for heavy metals and other toxins.
High levels of lead
One of the dog toys -- a latex one that looks like a green monster -- tested positive for what ExperToxs Forensic Toxicologist and Director, Dr. Ernest Lykissa, Ph.D., called high levels of lead and the cancer producing agent chromium.
Specifically, the lab reported the green monster toy contained 907.4 micrograms per kilogram of lead.
Thats almost one part per million, Dr. Lykissa told us. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, hes getting a good source of lead.
The green monster toy also had what Dr. Lykissa considered elevated levels of the cancer-producing agent chromium -- 334.9 micrograms per kilogram.
With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths. And dogs put things in their mouths. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.
The Texas-based laboratory also found other toxic metals in the green monster toy.
Theres cadmium, arsenic, and mercury in there, Dr. Lykissa said. This is not a clean toy. This is toxic. Bank on it.
ExperTox also detected worrisome levels of cadmium in a cloth catnip toy 236 micrograms per kilogram.
Thats a big number, Lykissa said. Its a good dose of cadmium.
But two veterinary toxicologists who reviewed ExperToxs results said the levels of toxic metals in the toys did not pose a health risk to dogs or cats.
Wal-Mart is also adamant that the chew toys are safe. Whether the toys pose a hazard to children and adults who handle them remains unclear.
The state of Illinois this week reached a settlement with a lunch bag distributor, who agreed to stop selling and distributing lunch bags containing amounts of lead in excess of the limits in Illinois law.
It is crucial that children's products containing any amount of lead be taken off the shelves and out of the hands of young children, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.
ExperTox also analyzed two other Chinese-made pet toys a cloth hedgehog for dogs and a plastic dumbbell toy for cats. The lab detected cadmium in those toys, but said the levels were about the amount youd find in one cigarette and not considered significant.
Nonetheless, ExperToxs findings frightened Karen because she recently purchased two of Wal-Marts green monster toys for her miniature Schnauzers, Angus and Taylor.
I had just brought the toys in the house, gave them to my dogs, and then went on my computer and read a consumer alert from your Web site, Karen told us on Monday. And there was that green monster toy.
I couldnt believe it had lead in it. My dogs had already started playing with.
Whats even more concerning, Karen said, is this is the second time this year that shes purchased the green monster toys for her dogs. The Schnauzers chewed on the toys for days, she said, and eventually tore the squeakers out of them.
Karen is now worried about lead building up her dogs bodies and the long-term effects that could have on their health.
I wish to God (your forensic toxicologist, Dr. Lykissa) was wrong about all this because if hes not my dogs will inevitably suffer, which will cause me to suffer deeply in the long run.
Karen said her dogs -- who are 10 months and 4 1/2 years old -- are in good health and have not shown any signs of illness from playing with the green monster toys.
But after reading our story, she immediately took the imported chew toys away from her dogs and returned them to Wal-Mart.
The customer service lady said oh, this is one of the recalled toys. But these toys are still on the shelf. Like I said, I just bought them a couple weeks ago.
Still being sold?
ConsumerAffairs.com purchased the four Chinese-made pet toys at a Wal-Mart in Kansas City, Missouri. We checked the store last week and found a green monster toy that looked identical to the one we tested except it wasnt in a plastic bag like the one we purchased and the UPC number was one digit off.
We also couldnt find the catnip toys on the stores shelves.
Wal-Mart, however, never indicated it planned to remove the toys from its stores.
Instead, the companys hired public relations person, who did not cite any scientific credentials, attacked ExperTox and said Dr. Lykissa severely misinterpreted the results.
After reviewing these test results provided to usthe results of these tests actually prove the products are VERY safe, Melissa OBrien, who identified herself as representing Wal-Marts corporate communication, wrote us in an e-mail. Other news organizations said O'Brien told them she worked for a public relations firm called Edelman.
If these measurements are in fact the results, as you have reported, they have been severely misinterpreted by the director of ExperToxs lab, if he is reporting these levels to be high or dangerous.
OBrien pointed out that CPSC has a limit of 600 parts per million for the total lead in surface coating.
By comparison, the highest concentration of lead found in any of the ExperTox tests is a very low 907.4 parts per million -- more than 600 times less than the CPSC limit for surface coatings.
The conclusions drawn in this article appear to have been based on incorrect interpretations of the data, and based on the opinions of a person (who is) not an expert in consumer product testing, OBrien said.
"The only conclusions drawn in our articles have been that experts disagree and that safety standards are needed to protect pets and the humans who come in contact with them and their toys," said ConsumerAffairs.com President and Editor in Chief James R. Hood. "Everyone agrees with that -- except Wal-Mart, which has contributed absolutely nothing to this dialogue."
"Edelman practices the slash-and-burn tactics now common in politics -- tactics that are totally inappropriate in the public health field," Hood said. "Wal-Mart's customers deserve better."
ConsumerAffairs.com also interviewed two veterinary toxicologists, who said the levels of lead, chromium, and cadmium in the green monster and catnip toys did not pose a health risk to pets, though they did not cite any long-term studies to back up their opinions.
I dont see any of those numbers being a toxicity concern for dogs or cats, Dr. Mike Murphy of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine told us. Latex paint can contain one-half to one percent of lead, which is 10,000 parts per million. What he (Dr. Lykissa) is saying is that one part per million is a risk. But latex paint is 10,000 times higher than that and we dont recognize latex paint as a toxicity risk to dogs and cats.
I disagree with the interpretation thats being made (by Lykissa), added Dr. Murphy, who holds a Ph.D. in toxicology. I consider these to be extremely low numbers and they are not a toxicological concern for pet owners.
Dr. Fred Oehme at Kansas State Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine said the risks to dogs and cats from these toys depends on how much of the heavy metals are absorbed in their bodies.
Could they be harmful? The poisoning depends on how much is taken into their systems. Most animals require 30 parts per million of their total daily diet before you get into a problem with lead. Cadmium is more than that.
Im more concerned about the lead than the other two (heavy metals), he added. Lead accumulates and if it gets into the body, it builds up.
ExperTox, however, isnt swayed by its critics. It stands by its findings and calls them rock solid. Lab Manager Donna Coneley also said Dr. Lykissa is an expert at testing consumer products.
ExperTox, she said, has the most advanced and sensitive equipment for conducting heavy metal tests specifically its ICP-MS or Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry.
Thats the machine ExperTox used to test the four pet toys we purchased at Wal-Mart.
These (toxic) materials came off the toys freely, like with the lick of the tongue from a dog or cat, Dr. Lykissa told us. They were readily liberated from these toys. We didnt take a sledge hammer and pound on them. I just did what a dog or cat would do by licking it. Thats why this is so serious.
Toxicologists at the lab cut off a small piece from each of the toys, weighed the samples, and put them in acidic water.
We left the samples for a while and then heated them up to body temperature, Dr. Lykissa said. Then we put them in (theICP-MS) and that machine told us this is lead and this is chromium . . .
We didnt dissolve the toys, he added. These materials were leeching off the toys. Whatever leeched off the toys is what Im reporting to you. The material came right off. Somebodys saliva or the sweat in their hands would freely pick up these materials. And thats absorbing it. If you ate the materials, like a dog might, it would be worse.
Expertox, however, doesnt look at CPSC limits during its testing procedures, Coneley said.
We simply pour out our results as we receive them. We dont look at the limits on products.
But in our opinion, that level of lead (907.4 micrograms per kilogram) is considered elevated and there are other choices (for pet owners), Coneley said. If someone wants to give a dog a toy with those levels (of lead) thats their choice and Im not going to argue with that. My choice would be to go with a more natural treat. I would not go with one that had elevated levels of chromium, lead, or cadmium.
Pet owners, she said, can trust the labs test results -- and the science behind them.
These are actual, valid numbers. Whether or not theyre toxic to a dog (or cat) is left to interpretation. All we can do is give our opinion and cooperate with the Food and Drug Administration or other governmental agency, which weve done many time.
This isnt the first time in recent weeks that test results on heavy metals in pet toys -- and the interpretation of those findings -- have pitted Dr. Lykissa against veterinary toxicologists and others in the pet industry.
In late August, an Illinois pet owner -- worried about the safety of the chew toys her Shelties played with -- hired the laboratory at the Illinois Department of Agriculture to test 24 Chinese-made dog toys for lead.
The only reason I tested these dog toys is because I have lost three Shelties in the last four years and I can only figure out why one of them died, said Nancy R. of Orland Park, Illinois.
She contacted us after reading our story about ExperToxs results on the imported Wal-Mart chew toys.
Then my 83-year-old mom noticed that my dogs toys were all made in China, Nancy said. I went to Petco and PetSmart and couldnt find any toys not made in China -- except one rope knot that was made in Mexico. I was doing this personally for the safety of my dogs and only tested for lead because thats what theyre finding in the toys from China.
The Illinois Department of Agricultures lab reported that the lead levels in all 24 dog toys Nancy tested fell within that states acceptable limits for lead paint in childrens toys.
The levels also fell far below the amount of lead paint in childrens toys thats allowed by federal law 600 parts per million.
The lab found the highest levels of lead in a PetSmart tennis ball -- 335.7 parts per million. It detected the lowest levels of lead in a Hartz Rubber Percival Platypus 0.02 parts per million.
These are all within the acceptable limits for lead content in childrens toys in Illinois, the labs director, Dr. Gene Niles, told us. The veterinarian is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology (DABVT).
There are no levels for lead content in pet toys. Are these numbers high or low? All I can tell you is that in Illinois, the state allows up to 600 parts per million for lead in kids toys and these are all within that guideline.
But the lead levels in PetSmarts tennis ball are 335 times higher than the amount of lead ExperTox found in the green monster toy.
Both safe ... or both dangerous?
Does that mean both toys are safe because the lead levels are far below 600 parts per million?
Or does it mean they both pose a health risk to pets and the children who play with them?
The answer depends on which scientists -- or public relations person -- you talk to about the findings.
PetSmart said its tennis balls are safe for dogs and the levels of lead do not pose any health risks.
To our knowledge, we are not selling any products that have compounds that have tested above levels of toxicity established by the various entities named above and are not posing any health threat to pets or humans, said Bruce Richardson, PetSmarts director of external communication.
Richardson said his company routinely tests its dog and cat toys for lead and other toxins.
The products we sell must meet a variety of safety and quality standards and protocols, he said. These are based on federal regulations and standardsas well as commonly accepted standards established by highly respected institutions such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
In addition, we have established our own stringent standards of quality and safety for areas not necessarily covered by those groups named above.
Richardson took exception with our comparison of the lead levels in the companys tennis ball to those found in the green monster toy.
He said its not fair to use ExperToxs benchmark of one part per million as a safety measure for lead or other toxins in pet toys.
The terms high and elevated are relative terms and must be used carefully and given proper context to avoid confusion and alarm, Richardson said. Its not fair to pit a (forensic) toxicologist against a veterinary toxicologist on this issue. I dont think he (Dr. Lykissa) has a leg to stand on. Hes not a veterinary toxicologist and has no point of reference when he talks about elevated levels. Elevated against what? I dont think his results bring any value to this discussion. And his comments will not change anything were doing.
The labs manager said the levels of lead in PetSmarts tennis ball are elevated and ExperTox does not consider them safe.
Those are a lot higher levels than what we found in the green monster toys, and I dont see how 600 parts per million is acceptable, said the labs Donna Coneley. We dont agree that (335.7 parts per million of lead) is a safe level.
Would Coneley let her dog chew on a toy with those levels of lead?
Not from what I see here at the lab, she said. We have differing opinions on what is safe and acceptable.
Coneley also questioned the validity of using the same acceptable levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys that are used in childrens toys.
Weight is always a factor, she said. If youre dealing with a teacup-size dog you cant assume that whats safe for a 20-pound child is safe for a three- to ten-pound dog. Cats are light as well. Their little bodies are not able to spread out the toxins. Animals also tend to chew things off more aggressively than kids.
Everyone seems to concentrate on humans with this type of testing, but maybe more scrutiny is needed on what limits are safe for pets.
Thats the one point where nearly everyone involved in this debate is on the same page.
There clearly is an absence of regulations for pet toys, Richardson said. Maybe the guidelines ... the levels ... for human standards are not so good based on the exposure for dog (or cats). Thats a huge question that needs to be addressed.
PetSmart, he said, would not object to having national acceptable standards and levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys.
The president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) told us his members -- who represent more than 900 pet product makers, importers, and livestock suppliers worldwide -- would welcome such standards.
Theyre looking for a benchmark that everyone can follow, said Bob Vetere, president of the non-profit organization. Maybe what we need is to have everyone sit down at a table and talk about what makes sense.
Its not going to be easy to find an answer, but its a process that has to start. The CPSC is certainly somebody that needs to be sitting at that table, and wed (APPMA) certainly be willing to work with them and help them on this issue, he said.
The CPSC, however, said its agency currently has no regulatory control over pet products. We only have jurisdiction over a pet-related product (that is not food), if evidence is presented that the product has put the safety of consumers at risk, said spokesman Scott Wolfson. He did not address the potential danger to children and adults exposed to the pet toys.
Dr. Niles with the Illinois Department of Agriculture joined those who favor national acceptable levels for lead and other toxins in pet toys.
We have to use human data now in the absence of pet data, he said. Work needs to be done to get standardized levels for pets. But you have to have the data. And Im fully in favor of scientific data to support those guidelines. Once we get those guidelines, we can interpret this data in relationship to animals instead of humans.
Remember worried pet owner Karen from Ohio?
She also supports the adoption of national standards for lead and other toxins in pet toys.
Dogs are living beings, she said. Theyre our companions. It shouldnt just be this attitude that oh, its a dog so we dont need any standards.
There absolutely should be standardized levels (of toxins) for pet toys.
Karen also favors federal regulation of pet toys. And I definitely think the CPSC should take that over. We all know that babies and toddlers put things in their mouths ... they could easily put these pet toys in their mouths.
Until that happens, Vetere said members of the APPMA will triple-checking their products to be sure theyre tested for lead and other toxins.
That action, he said, is the result of our story about ExperToxs findings on Wal-Marts pet toys.
Everyone (in this industry) is well aware of your story, Vetere told us. And the reaction from virtually everyone Ive talked to about the story is: Wait a minute. We didnt know about this. Hello, whats going on? And theyve called their vendors and suppliers to be sure theyre testing the products.
Its good that you got this out there so they (our members) could know, and they are pushing very hard on their vendors now to get those test results. If nothing else, everyone is now aware of this in the industry.
Made in China
Meanwhile, Karen and other dog owners told us theyll no longer buy pet toys made in China.
But that might not be easy to do.
I cant find any pet toys that arent made in China, Karen said, adding she wished some company in the USA would start making toys for dogs and cats. Ive done my research and most of the pet toys are made in China. Ive also written to different pet companies and theyve told me that basically everything made in China.
Pet owner Nancy from Illinois ran into the same problems during her search for USA-made dog toys.
I was going to dump out all my old toys and buy only ones made in the USA, she said. But I couldnt find any that werent made in China. What amazes me is that all these toys are made in China.
Karen also told us shes going to discuss ExperToxs findings with her veterinarian.
And Im hoping that the veterinarians you talked to are right and that theres no harm giving these toys to my dogs.
Whether pet owners agree or disagree with ExperToxs findings, the labs manager said this debate has given them the tools to make more informed decisions about the products they give their dogs and cats.
Thats what this is all about, giving people more information that I feel will help them make a better choice. If a vet says he think our results are extremely low numbers than people can take that information and balance it against what Dr. Lykissa said to make a better decision.
This has opened a Pandoras Box and its good that people are now talking about this.
Consumers Respond to Toxic Pet Toy Stories...