THE DETAILS: In the AP investigation, a lab technician tested 103 children's metal charm bracelets and pendant trinkets from around the country and sold at Wal-Mart, Claire's, and dollar stores. Twelve percent of those tested contained at least 10 percent cadmium, a carcinogenic metal that has been shown to cause developmental problems in small children. Some items tested contained more than 90 percent cadmium by weight, and many shed the toxic metal easily, making it particularly dangerous to children, who often put toys in their mouth.
Congress wasted no time reacting to the AP bombshell, with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introducing legislation Wednesday aimed at classifying cadmium as a hazardous substance, making it illegal to use it in children's jewelry. (At the moment, it's legal to use the metal.)
Read on to find out how to find safer toys.
WHAT IT MEANS: We've seen toy recalls due to lead contamination, which prompted heavy regulation of that metal in the Consumer Safety Improvement Act of 2008. Some manufacturers have been using zinc as a safer alternative. But it appears that other producers are substituting toxic lead with toxic cadmium, which is used to solder metal pieces together. Because cadmium is perfectly legal to use at the moment, parents hold the brunt of responsibility in protecting their children from its effects. Complicating matters, the average person can't buy a simple kit to test products, as they can with lead. You'd need a chemistry lab to test trinkets for cadmium.
Here's how to protect children from toxic metal in toys:
• Take imported metal toys and trinkets off the shopping list. "Given the whole mess with China sending us bad products and our country unable to scrutinize and regulate those products, just stay away from metal jewelry for the time being," suggests leading children's health expert Philip Landrigan, MD, chair of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a Rodale.com advisor. Instead, he recommends opting for toys made of safer materials, such as unpainted wood. They might seem boring to you, but kids are very creative, he notes. He also advises against splurging on high-tech toys for younger children. "Nobody knows what's in these fancy, high-end toys. Or what's safe for kids and what's not," he adds. (Besides which, some experts believe computers and video gamescan be bad for the mental development of young children.
• Don't go for the cheap stuff. Cheap toys often come with a cost you won't see on the price tag. Dollar-store-variety toys and trinkets may help consumers save money, but they are often produced using toxic materials overseas, where environmental health laws are significantly more lax than they are in the United States. On the U.S. end, agencies aren't well equipped to test imports for safety. When looking for toys, don't base your decision on price alone, but research where it came from, and what it's made out of. Visit HealthyStuff.org to find safer options.