Metal Contamination in Toys – Buyer Beware!

I have previously written a blog post on a topic raised by my close friend and colleague, Dr. Tom Murphy, - the disturbing issue of Mercury Contamination of Skin Whitening Creams, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.   Tom is a leader in reporting on important issues of contaminants in foods and consumer products, and he has also published reports on Arsenic Bioaccumulation in an Arsenic Rich area of Cambodia and most recently reported on Metal Contamination in Low-Cost Jewelry and Toys in Cambodia.

While Tom works out of his base in Cambodia, these problem are by no means restricted to Cambodia.  Rather, they are widespread across both developing and developed countries.  I strongly believe that these issues need to be more widely publicized. To that end, spend a few minutes to read this post and become informed about this issue.  Share your new-found knowledge with your colleagues, friends, partners, spouses and/or children.  Warn them of the danger of these products so they can make better decisions regarding purchase and use of these products.

For those interested, you can download the full text of the metals in jewelry and today article here; that study is summarized below:

Background. The existence of lead-contaminated consumer products is a global issue. Toys and low-cost jewelry may contain toxic metals and Cambodia is known to have consumer products with toxic metals.

Objectives. It is important to inform Cambodians about sources of toxic metals so that they can reduce their exposure risk, particularly for children.

Methods. Student volunteers purchased, or brought from home, low-cost jewelry and toys to either the University of Health Science or a Don Bosco Institute in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they were analyzed using X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF). The initial analysis was performed in 2011. A subset of the 2011 samples was re-analyzed in 2015 using new preparation techniques and a new XRF unit.

Discussion. The analysis of low-cost jewelry in Phnom Penh in 2015 indicated that lead in jewelry clasps is a more serious health concern than was first perceived in 2011. Mercury, nickel, cadmium and copper were also found in toys, and occasionally these toys had been produced by well-known companies. Sources of jewelry production of samples in the present study are unknown. Lead in clasps in low-cost jewelry appeared to be the greatest risk to children in our sampling.

Conclusion. One-third of toys and low-cost jewelry exceeded the United States and European Union guidelines for heavy metals. XRF analysis allows for rapid screening of lead and other toxic metals and could be used to reduce the sales of low-cost jewelry and toys containing toxic metals.

The use of dangerously high levels of metals in these products is driven purely by greed, as it is cheaper than safer alternatives.  Unfortunately, these products are marketed to vulnerable groups that are looking for inexpensive and jewelry and toys.  And, the most sensitive group to many contaminants, such as lead poisoning, is children. 

As always, it is up to the consumer to beware of these issues.  Please spread the message and let’s keep our children safe!

Thanks for reading.  Keep safe.  Be healthy.  Respect your environment.


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Photo Credits: Dinosaur Toy image courtesy of  Ian L of  www.freerangestock.com.

Randall D. Shaw, Ph.D.
Managing Director at Redlog Environmental Ltd.
Dr. Randall Shaw is Managing Director of Redlog Environmental Ltd. He has a wide-ranging background in health, safety and environment, with a focus on those HSE issues faced by industry in Asia. Dr. Shaw’s blog posts on HSE issues in Asia are based on his experience from working in more than 30 countries, his pragmatic approach to solving HSE problems, and his desire to pass on this knowledge to others. Ultimately, his goal is to help HSE professionals and companies active in the developing world tackle their HSE issues. You can find him on Twitter (@RedlogHSE) and LinkedIn and he is always keen to discuss HSE issues with others.
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