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Children’s Toys: Heavy Metals in Manufacturing

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Children’s toys are pertinent to learning and understanding the world. Concern should strike when these toys start threatening instead of helping these children’s well-being. Many toys children play with worldwide often contain harmful materials and chemicals that threaten human health. Though research is still limited, it has been identified that specific chemicals in children’s toys and jewelry can have adverse health effects. Heavy metals found in various children’s toys include arsenic, antimony, cadmium, lead, chromium, mercury, copper, and cobalt. These heavy metals can pose numerous threats to humans, with an accelerated risk for children as they are still growing and developing. 

Health Risks of Children’s Toys

These metals threaten children’s health globally. Many of these metals, including antimony and lead, are possible carcinogens. Other metals have adverse effects, including increased blood cholesterol, decreased blood sugar, neurodevelopment problems, behavioural disorders, kidney disorders, hypertension, and teratogenesis, as well as effects on the skeletal and respiratory systems.

Young children are at higher risk of these effects due to their developmental stage and innate habit of “mouth” non-foods. Children under 12 months average 39-66 minutes daily of mouthing habits. This extended time mouthing allows a direct route of ingesting these heavy metals due to mobilization through saliva. Other modes of contact that can have adverse effects include dermal and respiratory routes. 

Heavy Metal Concentrations in Children’s Toys

These heavy metals have been found in children’s toys for decades, but due to lack of research have managed to scathe by and remain a part of the manufacturing process. These metals are used in manufacturing as stabilizers, in plastics, paint, and recycled metals used in toys and jewelry. These metals are unnecessary and often aid the manufacturing in cutting corners and producing their product more inexpensively, but they have detrimental effects. One instance mentioned during discussions about this topic is a report of a child in 2006 in the U.S. that swallowed a jewelry charm and contracted lead poisoning and sadly passed away because of it. Shortly after this incident, in 2007, a study found  “43% of 139 metallic jewelry from the USA was heavily contaminated” with lead. This led to many manufacturers swapping their lead-contaminated materials with cadmium. However, due to such high concentrations of this heavy metal, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled numerous pieces of jewelry in 2010. Even with ongoing updates to regulations in children’s toys, these heavy metals remain a part of the manufacturing processes. There have been hundreds of recalls on children’s items in North America alone in the last decade due to unsafe levels of these metals.

A report from 2022 outlined recent studies that the European Union (EU) found that 83% of toys exceed safety regulation limits for lead levels and 65% for cadmium levels. This percentage includes plastic toys with paints and coatings, with 43% of toys exceeding safe metal concentrations in the EU. The same study identified that children’s jewelry fluctuated with 13.4% to 44.6% of jewelry pieces exceeding safe limits of heavy metals.

Moving Forward

As this issue has persisted for decades now, it is more important than ever to start to see change being done. From the manufacturing level, full precaution should be taken, and materials should be evaluated before using them in production, especially in children’s products. The introduction of safer materials used at the production level should be considered, even if it is a bit more costly. No price can be put on the well-being of our children. 

In the meantime, parents, caretakers, and anyone purchasing or providing toys to children should remain weary. Read labels, research, and, as much as possible, opt for natural materials and toys.

About Post Author

Sarah Lawless

Sarah graduated from Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) in 2022. She holds an Honours Bachelors degree in Environment and Urban Sustainability with a minor in Geographic Analysis. With a professional background in urban sustainability, Sarah is passionate about education, food security, and green development and aspires to use and share her knowledge to help cities become more accessible and sustainable.
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