Ithaca Times

Ithaca's Cancer Research Center Targets Toxic Toys

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Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 12:00 am

Fisher Price's Kid Tough Portable DVD Player, Leapfrog's Leapster 2 and Didj Custom game systems, Hannah Montana and High School Musical 3 toys and jewelry are all expected to be big sellers this holiday season. Unfortunately, they've all been listed as having high toxicity levels by healthytoys.org.

"Where are the toxic chemicals coming from that we're finding in the bodies of our children? Is it in the food? The air? Or in toys that they're mouthing?" said Sandra Steingraber, a local ecologist and writer who is currently a Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College.

So far, healthytoys.org has tested 1,500 items for lead, bromine, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic and mercury. It also lists any other notably toxic elements found in a specific toy. Visitors can browse by brand, toy type or name (though the toy search is sensitive and many times won't find the item even if it has been tested.)

The site lists more than 50 items on a "Best Toys" list, divided by toy category, and another 30 on a "Worst Toys" list by toxin. The worst toy tested to date is Disney's "Two Hearts and Hannah Montana Graphic Necklace," which weighs in at 406,510 parts per million (PPM) being toxic. According to the site, 10,000 PPM equals 1 percent by weight.

There are 20 Hannah Montana items on the site ranging from highly toxic to low (the best rating.) Christine Brouwer, founder of Mira's Movement, a local group looking to increase federal funding for pediatric cancer research, is working to spread the word about healthytoys.org in time for holiday shopping.

"The Hannah Montana jewelry is at the very top of the toxic list and so many of these are going to be sold this year," she said.

An orange Halloween Pumpkin Pin sold at The Christmas Shop is the top of the worst list for cadmium and arsenic and second for lead.

Not all the toys on this year's online top gift lists have been tested by healthytoys.org. Noticeable oversights are Fisher-Price's Elmo Live, Playskool's Kota My Triceratops Dinosaur and Little Tykes' Giddyup N' Go Pony.

"Right now healthytoys.org is taking requests, they're going to test one toy a week until the holidays," Brouwer said.

Shawn Galbreath, executive director of the Cancer Research Center, has searched her granddaughters' toy collections for listed items and is requesting that more classic toys be tested.

"I think playdough needs to be tested," she said.

Some classics have been looked into, with varying results. Several Barbies have been tested and most have medium toxicities, mainly because of chlorine levels in the dolls' hair and skin.

Every LEGO item tested came up as low and all stacking blocks, cubes and rings listed on healthytoys.org are also low in toxins.

The Nintendo Wii, sure to be another popular toy this year, has medium toxicity, mostly in its various cables and cords.

Most of the time whole toys are not toxic and Galbreath said the toxic pieces can often be removed. On one particular doll house an orange dog and a flower box hanging from a window were the only toxic parts, she said.

"A lot of it is paint," Galbreath said.

The toxic elements on dolls, however, are a different matter. Often it is the hard face of the doll that contains the toxins. Even soft dolls meant for infants, like Playskool's Lullaby Gloworm, have toxic plastic parts. The Gloworm is listed as medium for levels of bromine and chlorine.

"It's designed for babies and teething infants are going to chew on a hard face," Brouwer said.

Galbreath said toxins in toys has been a problem for quite awhile but with two young granddaughters and this list now publicly available she just could not ignore the problem any more.

"I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother and we know toxins are being found in younger and younger kids and now in babies that haven't even been born yet, so something's wrong there," Galbreath said.

Steingraber said she was concerned when she went through healthytoys.org's lists and found some potentially dangerous items in her own toy box, especially since she tries to keep updated on ecological toxin issues.

"As a working mother I can't vet every single toy my kids come in contact with," she said. "I can vet my own toy box but not the toys at after school programs or friends' houses."

Arsenic, which can lead to bladder cancer, circulates in a child's body longer than an adults' and can consequently cause more damage, Steingraber said. Many of the cancers developed during adulthood can be linked to exposure to toxins and chemical mixtures as children, she said.

Brouwer said it is important for parents to pay attention to their children's toys because governmental regulations are not necessarily protecting kids from toxic exposure.

"They assume we're in a safe society and once you're in the pediatric cancer ward that goes away," she said.

Welcome to the discussion.

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