Manufacturer recalls of toys, promotional drinking glasses, and other children's products constitute an ongoing "toxic toys crisis" that requires banning potentially harmful ingredients in these products and other changes in policy and practices.
That's the conclusion of a new analysis in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
Monica Becker, Sally Edwards and Rachel Massey note that in June 2010, 12 million promotional drinking glasses, sold at McDonald's, were recalled because the painted coating contained cadmium, chemical element that is a known carcinogen.
The glasses were voluntarily recalled by McDonald's but only after an anonymous tipster alerted the Office of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who in turn alerted the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
"Our children's health should not depend on the consciences of anonymous sources," Speier said. "Although McDonalds did the right thing by recalling these products, we need stronger testing standards to ensure that all children's products are proven safe before they hit the shelves."
Since 2007, the government has recalled more than 17 million toys due to high levels of lead.
The report says that these and other incidents have raised concern about the problem of toxic substances in toys and other children's products, many of which are made overseas. The substances include ingredients either suspected or recognized as potentially damaging to children's health.
Although government, industry, and advocacy groups have taken significant actions to solve the problem, including restricting the use of certain substances, that response remains inadequate, the scientists say.
Many toy companies and retailers have been slow to move.
In October 2010, a coalition of investors put the heat on Toys 'R' Us as they prepared a public stock offering, demanding that the toy store chain live up to its promise to reduce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, phthalates, and lead in children's and infant toys.
Chemicals associated with PVC can cause health problems including cancer, neurological, and immune system damage, critics have charged.
Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck of the Congregation of St. Joseph said recent testing found Toys "Râ€ Us had "failed to fully implement" the commitment it made in 2008 to reduce and clearly label potentially toxic substances in toys. Of the toys that still contained PVC were figurines from kid-favorite brands like Barbie and Toy Story 3.
The study authors recommend several actions for the government, including banning or restricting the use of all substances with well-documented toxicity in toys and other children's products.
They also offer recommendations for how the toy industry can be proactive, including establishing an industry-wide list of toxic substances to avoid.
"Until significant changes in policy and practice occur, consumers cannot be confident that products they purchase for children are safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable," the report states.