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Geneva, Switzerland – International organizations today released a study finding extremely high levels of toxic chemicals in toys and other products consumed by children. 

Available on-line

The announcement came during a large gathering of government experts who are negotiating agreements related to the management and trade of chemicals and toxic waste.

“We were very alarmed to find such high level of toxic chemicals in products being sold to society’s most vulnerable – our children, said Olga Speranskaya, Co-Chair of the International POPS Elimination Network (IPEN) and Goldman Prize winner.  “We are calling on governments to regulate toxic chemicals in toys more carefully”.

TheToxic Metals and Childrens’ Products study carried out through a partnership between IPEN and GRID-Arendal, a Norway-based Centre collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme, inspected over 560 different children's products in circulation  in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine. Tests revealed that approximately 30 percent contained toxic metals, including lead, mercury, arsenic and antimony – all at levels above the regulatory limits applied in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.

 “This is an issue of global significance,” said Valentin Yemelin, Head of Capacity Building for GRID-Arendal. “Action is needed to halt the trade of toxic toys, inform consumers and remove toxic chemicals from the supply chain.”

Toys are very big business globally, generating over $80 billion in 2010.  Although some governments regulate the toy market tightly, manufacturing is often contracted out to many thousands of small firms where the regulatory framework might not be followed.  The majority of the toys on the market – many millions of them, and over 75 percent of those studied - are manufactured in China, the world’s largest toy producing economy.  Chinese manufactured toys are often under license from big western and Japanese conglomerates.  Approximately one quarter of the toys tested were manufactured in Europe.  Of the 164 products containing a toxic metal, 6 originated in the EU, raising concerns about European oversight.

Leading toys markets include the United States, Australia, Western Europe and Japan. As other economies expand and incomes rise, so expenditure on toys will increase. Over recent years there has been a big expansion of the market in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Consumers in these fast-growing markets, where the toys trade is not so tightly supervised, receive little or no information about chemicals in toy products.  Labels on many consumer products – including toys – often lack important information on chemical ingredients, the names of manufacturers and recommendations for safe handling and disposal.

Toxic substances found in toys can cause a variety of harmful consequences.  Lead, for example, is a leading neurotoxicant.  Even small amounts of exposure by children can lead to learning difficulties, attention deficit, problems with coordination, anemia and visual, spatial and speech problems.  

Lead is also the most common toxic metal present in children's toys. The Russian regulatory limit for lead in soil is 32 parts per million (ppm).  Five toy products examined in the study – a plastic jump rope in Ukraine, a toy lock in Armenia, a skirt for a stuffed animal in Kyrgyzstan, a ceramic mug in Belarus and a toy car in Russia – contained lead concentrations ranging from 7,822 ppm to 18,694 ppm.

Mercury damages the kidneys and can harm the nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, hematologic, immune and reproductive systems.  Nervous systems in early stages of development are particularly prone to damage from mercury; exposure can lead to loss of cognitive abilities, abnormal muscle tone and a loss of motor function. Exposure to arsenic is associated with skin lesions, high blood pressure and, in children, correlated with lower IQ and neurological dysfunction. Younger children increase their exposures to toxins through behavior, such as putting toy products in their mouths.  The study also found that, at the other end of the product cycle, most toys eventually become waste and are dumped in landfills as waste, causing further environmental pollution

Items in the Toxic Metals in Childrens’ Products study were selected from different product categories and for different age groups.  Products tested included dolls, jewelry, children's cosmetics, construction kits, sports equipment, hair accessories and school supplies such as pencil cases and books. Items were purchased from a variety of outlets and sources, such as supermarkets, small retail shops, street traders and markets.  The study was carried out under the auspices of IPEN, Eco-Accord (Russia), the Armenian Women for Health and Healthy Environment, MAMA-86 (Ukraine), the Centre for Environmental Solutions (Belarus), Independent Environmental Expertise (Kyrgyzstan) and Greenwomen (Kazakhstan). The study was supported by and developed in collaboration with GRID-Arendal and co-funded by SSNC.

About the International POPs Elimination Network:

The International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) is a global network of more than 700 public interest non-governmental organizations working together for the elimination of persistent organic pollutants, on an expedited yet socially equitable in which all chemicals are produced and used in ways that eliminate significant adverse effects on human health and the environment, and where persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and chemicals of equivalent concern no longer pollute our local and global environments, and no longer contaminate our communities, our food, our bodies, or the bodies of our children and future generations.

About GRID-Arendal:

GRID-Arendal is a Centre collaborating with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), supporting informed decision making and awareness-raising through environmental information management and assessment, capacity building services, outreach and communication tools, methodologies and products.


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