Beware of Toxic Toys

If you are buying toys as Christmas gifts for children, safety must be a priority. 

Filipinos are by nature gift givers. As the December breeze becomes colder, Filipinos—despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic—are unstoppable from buying Christmas presents to delight their young loved ones, particularly their godchildren. Buyers shop online or go to toy shops in malls and places like Quiapo and Divisoria for low-priced toys.

However, little do many know that some of these colorful and attractive toys can pose health risks. When toys do not pass health and safety standards, they can be hazardous to humans. Some volatile chemicals give off an odd smell when you open the toy’s packaging. When these toys are chewed and their toxic chemicals are swallowed or inhaled, they can be fatal to children and the unborn.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

These toxic toys go undetected because of poor regulation. When one’s budget is too tight, safety and quality are set aside.

Examining toys by checking their packaging before buying them is essential. Otherwise, you might be giving your little loved ones something dangerous in disguise of a gift.

Health hazards

As early as September this year, the EcoWaste Coalition warned the public from a yellow squeezable plastic “shrilling” chicken toy imported from China and sold in retail and online that has been found to contain high concentrations of phthalates, which are added to plastics to make them more flexible and harder to break.

EcoWaste Coalition warns against the “shrilling” chicken toy still being sold online.

According to chemist Mark Xavier Bailon who teaches research at the Philippine Science High School – Central Luzon Campus, common chemicals that are found in toys are heavy metals like lead which are neurotoxic and may be harmful to most organs and cadmium, which are carcinogenic and may hinder brain development in kids. In particular, lead is a teratogenic agent or substance that can interfere with the development of the embryo or fetus and halt the pregnancy or produce a congenital malformation or a birth defect.

“All of these chemicals are already included in the regulated chemicals for product development although implementation might vary per country,” Bailon said.

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Phthalates are harmful chemicals which can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system. Other harmful chemicals found in toys include bisphenol A which has possible effect on the brain and can disrupt children’s normal growth, development and behavior; and brominated flame retardants that can affect normal thyroid functions and neural development.

Carcinogenic azo dyes for coloring in textiles and leather materials are also commonly used in manufacturing toys.

A team of researchers from Arnika, BioDetection Systems, and International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) reveals that toys made of black plastic, which is often derived from recycled e-waste plastics with flame retardant chemicals, are toxic to human cells. The study published in the July 2020 issue of Chemosphere is the first to verify the toxic effects of plastic toys made of recycled plastics on human cells. It reveals that children mouthing toys made from this plastic are at risk of dangerous health effects from the toxic material. 

Photo by Toni Cuenca from Pexels

Researchers analyzed toys and toy components, made from black plastic purchased in Argentina, Germany, the Czech Republic, India, Nigeria, and Portugal. Black plastic often originates from highly toxic plastic e-waste containing toxic brominated flame-retardant chemicals. The researchers found perilously high levels of flame retardants and dioxin, a group of highly toxic chemical compounds that are harmful to health, in the sampled toys, in concentrations comparable to hazardous waste.

In 2019, national officials of the European Union banned 248 models of toy, possibly tens of millions of units, from sale after tests revealed illegal levels of toxic chemicals. Of these, 92 percent were categorized as “serious risk”; 88 percent came from China; and 51 percent were contaminated with phthalates. 

Seriously contaminated toys found in Poland were plastic medical playsets and a toy chemistry set found in France. Likewise, around half the contaminated toys were plastic, 73 models were dolls, 62 were slime contaminated with boron, and 27 were soft or squeezable toys.

Bailon said that proper product labeling is important because it gives the consumers an idea on what the toys are made of and if hazardous substances are present in the product. Labels can also be used to indicate that the product is safe or if presence of chemicals in the products are within regulatory limits.

Miniature of a Plane

“Improper disposal of toys containing hazardous substances can lead to eventual release of these substances into the environment as pollutants. Eventually, these pollutants can be taken in by organisms causing the various toxic effects of these pollutants,” said Bailon, who also holds a Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering.

Safety violations

Republic Act 10620, or the Toy and Game Safety Labeling Act of 2013, requires special labeling for toys and games in order to protect children against potential hazards to their health and safety from such products. As part of quality control, toys should list all chemical ingredients on the label, just like for food and cosmetics.

“We urge holiday shoppers to exercise caution when purchasing toys as many products sold in the market are not properly labeled contrary to the law,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition, in a press release last December 3.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the use of such non-compliant products may pose health risks to consumers, including exposure to harmful chemicals, injury, choking or suffocation due to small or broken parts.

“A toy that is improperly labeled is a red flag for potential quality and safety issues. It may indicate that the toy lacks a certificate of product notification and that it is being sold illegally,” Dizon added.

Based on the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) jointly promulgated by the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), toy and game labels are required to include the following information: LTO number issued by the FDA; age grading; cautionary statements/warnings; instructional literature; manufacturer’s marking; and item, model, SKU number.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

During the FDA monthly toy monitoring in November, the team purchased 105 toy products costing P21 to P164 each from retail establishments located in Caloocan, Malabon, Manila, Navotas and Valenzuela Cities. Sadly, out of 105 toy samples, none were fully compliant to the Labeling and Packaging Requirements under Rule 1, Title II of RA 10620’s IRR.

Common violations found in the sampling include 87 samples provided zero or incomplete name and address of the toy manufacturer or distributor; 37 samples showed no cautionary statements such as “Warning: Not suitable for children under three years. Contains small parts” or its equivalent graphical symbol; 82 samples had no item, model, stock keeping unit (SKU) number; 32 samples provided no age labeling information; 17 samples lacked the license to operate (LTO) number issued by the FDA; 15 samples were totally unlabeled; and 11 samples had their labeling information written in foreign characters.

“Toy manufacturers, importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers have the responsibility to provide the required information through proper product labeling,” Dizon said, adding that “consumers have the right to receive complete and truthful product information to enable them to make wise buying decisions.”  

The colorful appearance, packaging, trend, and price of toys entice people to buy them.

However, there is more to these toys than what meets the eye. The producers of these toxic toys are big businessmen who do not care about the health of consumers and survival of sellers and resellers—all profit-oriented.

Regulating the sale of toys whether in malls or markets to guarantee safety needs not be done during the Christmas season only. It is a responsibility that needs yearlong consistency to ensure public health, especially among children. 

About the Author

Aries Oliveros has written textbooks on grammar and creative nonfiction and is currently an executive assistant at the Office of the Executive Director of the Philippine Science High School System – Office of the Executive Director.

He was formerly Chief of the Curriculum and Instruction Division and adviser of the school paper The Central Scholar. He studied Bachelor of Secondary Education, Major in English at Philippine Normal University, Manila.

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