Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Beyond Lead - Finding Out What's In Your Kids Toys

--Feature: "Greener One w/Molly Hovorka"--

I am the Co-Founder of, an Eco-ratings community helping consumers make sustainable purchasing decisions. Working on Eco-ratings can be both a blessing and a curse. On the blessing side, I have an arsenal of resources for evaluating products, I stay informed about environmental trends and issues and I am in a position to help people make safer and more environmentally friendly decisions about the things they bring into their homes. On the curse side, I unintentionally bring small talk to a standstill at even the most casual of gatherings.

A few weeks ago, a brunch conversation with some friends and family turned to the issue of lead in toys. To be sure, this is a serious problem: one organization recently found lead in 35% of children’s toys that they tested, and in 38% of jewelry. The glorious sunny afternoon seemed to grow slightly darker when I piped up that the U.S. government restricts the use of lead in toys only in paint, and that it turns up in all kinds of places including jewelry, shoes, bibs, backpacks, and vinyl toys. And not only that, a whole slew of other toxins are founds in toys as well, including:

  • PVC, which is a hard plastic that contains vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, and which also produces dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known, as a by-product. In addition, products made with PVC often contain phthalates to make them more flexible. Phthalates are linked to hormonal and reproductive problems, breast cancer, asthma and problems with the kidneys, liver and blood. PVC is used in books, bibs, backpacks, packaging, toys, plastic clothes and shoes and in other plastic products and components. Phthalates are also found in a wide variety of products besides plastic toys, including tablecloths, inflatable pools, detergents and personal care products.
  • Cadmium, which is used as a stabilizer in PVC and paints, is linked to low birth weight, developmental disorders, and other problems, and is also a carcinogen. It can be found in painted toys and in backpacks, lunchboxes and bibs.
  • Arsenic is a heavy metal that may make its way into children’s products via textiles or dyes. It is a known carcinogen that may also cause problems in the skin, blood, cardiovascular system and hormones.
  • Mercury is used in inks, adhesives and in the formation of polyurethanes, and is dangerous to the nervous system and kidneys. While the more dangerous form of mercury (methylmercury) is not likely to be found in toys, there is a danger to workers manufacturing toys containing mercury as well as a hazard to the environment when the product is discarded. Mercury can be found in vinyl backpacks and bath toys. is a good place to look up products by name, brand or type to find out the concentrations of any toxins that are present. While the site stops short of saying how risky a product is, it does provide detailed information about what levels of these ingredients are considered safe (and which organizations set these guidelines), allowing you to draw your own conclusions. To find out whether a product is safe while shopping, you can send a text message to MomsRising, which uses the database to provide you with an instant answer.

Molly Hovorka is a co-founder and the marketing director of Greener One, an eco-ratings community that gives you the tools and information you need to make greener choices. In addition, Molly writes the Greener One blog on, as well as the Greener One column on The Lohasian - both providing product reviews from a green perspective as well as environmental news and commentary. To compare products or to share your product knowledge with other conscious consumers, visit

(Note: This post was originally published on

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