Study finds staggering levels of poisonous metals in toys; most parents unaware of health hazards
It is normal for toys to contain plastics, small motors, miniature wheels; but toxic metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium – not so normal. Most parents, oblivious to the fact, expose their kids to the imminent health hazards associated with using such toxic toys.
A recent study has revealed that the toys – both imported and locally made – that Bangladeshi kids play with every day, contain high levels of some very toxic heavy metals which may result in deadly diseases such as cancer, replacing the joy of playing with toys.
What is more alarming is that there is no specific guideline in place that may govern the import and distribution of such toys, although Bangladeshi toy manufacturers have to go through strict monitoring procedures for getting their products into the US and European markets.
Rayhan Kabir, operations manager of Pebble Child BD Ltd, said: “When we export toys to the EU markets, we have to follow the EU Toy Safety law, which ensures that there is nothing harmful for the children. In the United States and Australia, we cannot export toys without certification.”
Even the Bangladesh Standards Testing Institute (BSTI) – the authority in charge of looking after the quality of products – is not known for checking whether these imported toys are healthy for Bangladeshi children.
BSTI Director Kamal Prashad Das said they had not examined toys in their laboratories and there was no law or regulation to monitor the quality of the toys.
“Any sort of heavy metal is hazardous to health and it is highly risky for the children. Toys should be brought into regulation soon considering child health,” he said.
Apart from cancer, presence of high levels of heavy metals may also lead to children developing learning disabilities and hormonal problems.
Children run the highest risks of getting exposed, not only because they are the predominant users, but also because chances of contamination escalate at the early stages of cerebral and physical development. Another reason why the risks climb higher is that kids often tend of put the toys in their mouths.
According to the survey conducted by the Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO), a non-government entity, around 97% of toys, tested for the purpose of the study, contained high concentration of lead, cadmium, bromine and chromium.
“High concentration” of toxic metals means that the levels are significantly above the ceilings recommended by the European Union and the United States.
Disturbingly, 70% of the respondents of the survey that accompanied the study, are unaware of the threats that these toxic toys can pose to the health of children and also the environment.
More disturbing is that reputed global toy brands such as Barbie and Lego are no different. The levels of lead, chromium and cadmium found in some tested Barbie and Lego toys were higher than European standards.
Out of the samples tested, 75% were contaminated with bromine, 62.5% with lead, 27.5% with chromium and 20% with cadmium.
The study has found high levels of lead and chromium in locally-made clay and wooden toys as well.
Lead is known as a neurotoxin with no safe level of exposure. Even small concentrations of lead can give rise to anaemia, difficulties in learning, attention, coordination, vision and speech. Cadmium has disastrous impacts on lungs, kidneys, bones, pancreas and blood.
Toxic effects of bromine has been observed on skin, lungs, blood, eyes, stomach and heart. Chromium has toxic effects on skin, lungs, kidneys, the reproductive system and liver.
Results of the awareness survey showed that 74% of the respondent parents buy their kids foreign toys and 64% respondents do not have any idea whether the toys they buy are safe or not. Some 88% parents said they did not have any knowledge about the presence of toxic metals in toys.
Around 58% of the respondents said their offspring put toys in their mouths. Interestingly, 20% of the surveyed parents said they had noticed their children face health problems after using the toys.
The study also found that a lack of mass awareness and zero enforcement of law about proper disposal of discarded toys are also raising the level of danger. More than two-third of the respondent parents admitted that they dump the used toys in their regular garbage cans along with other everyday wastes.
The discarded toys end up in the landfill, in the water bodies and the drainage systems. Experts say these toxic materials can remain in the environment for extended periods before degrading and getting carried long distances into the sea.
“Lead is simply poisonous for public health. Children play with toys and most of the time they chew the toys. If there is lead in the toys, children may suffer mental disorder and anaemia. Their behavioural pattern could also change. In the long run, their kidneys might malfunction and red blood cell count may go down,” Abid Hossain Molla, professor of paediatrics at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told the Dhaka Tribune.
There is no published data that may give a comprehensive picture of the toy industry in Bangladesh. With only a fifth of the domestic demand met by local manufacturers, Bangladeshi toy industry is considered “emerging” in the global perspective.