Toys in the attic could pose hazards

Photo (c) pakpong pongatichat

Vintage toys contain heavy metals that are regulated today

Baby boomers who are now grandparents are often amazed at changes to toy safety standards over the years. After all, they grew up playing with all manner of sharp, metal projectiles and toys with tiny, swallowable parts.

So grandparents -- and even parents -- should probably think twice before pulling out a favorite toy from childhood to give to a child today. There could be a multitude of issues that make that a bad idea.

Early in the year researchers writing in the Journal of Environmental Health found even more reasons to keep old toys in the attic or on the shelf. The authors of the study, Gillian Zaharias Miller of the Ecology Center and Zoe E. Harris of St. Ambrose University said they began their research project after finding the presence of heavy metals in toys. These metals are regulated now but they weren't in the past.

Toys from the 70s and 80s

The study took a close look at more than 100 popular toys from the 1970s and 1980s. The toys in the study were made of polyvinyl chloride and non-vinyl plastics and were inspected using an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer.  The device was able to account for the hazardous metal content of each toy in the test. 

The results revealed that lead and cadmium turned up in about two-thirds of the old toys they inspected and the levels they found often exceeded current limits.

There were other metals too. Things like mercury and barium were found in some of the more vintage toys.

Lead paint

That was just in plastic toys. Some metal toys had traces of lead in their paint. Lead-based paint has long been banned for use in products marketed to children, along with house paint and in dishes and cookware, but the ban wasn't in place until 1978.

Toys that were made before 1978 and even new toys that have been illegally imported from other countries, could be dangerous to children who play with them.

“When old plastics are exposed to substances such as sunlight, air and detergents, the chemical bond between the lead or other heavy metals and the plastic can break down and form dusts that could expose children to these hazards,” said Joseph Frasca, Senior Vice President of Marketing at EMSL Analytical, Inc, a company that tests for metal content.  “Today, all children’s products manufactured after August 14, 2011, must not contain more than 100 parts per million of total lead content in accessible parts."

 Parents concerned about vintage toys can have them tested but perhaps a better thing to do is make the older toys collectors items or decorations and not let children play with them. After all, some vintage toys could be valuable.

Ebay's Vintage Toy category always has lots of playthings from the past that are being offered for sale well over $100. Everyone is better off if old toys remain in a display case, not in the playroom.

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