Not So Squeaky Clean
A Study of Phthalates in Toys
Toxic-Free Future was previously known as Washington Toxics Coalition from 1981 to 2016.
2007 was the year of the toxic toy, in which major toy companies recalled millions of toys due to lead contamination. Despite the recalls, testing of 1,200 toys by the Washington Toxics Coalition, the Michigan-based Ecology Center and others in late 2007 found that the problem hasn’t been solved: more than a third of the toys tested positive for lead, and nearly 50% were made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl), a plastic associated with the use of toxic additives.1 The testing also revealed that toys made of PVC were more likely to contain toxic metals such as lead and cadmium.
To learn if PVC toys contain other hidden dangers, we sent 20 PVC toys to an accredited laboratory to test for the plasticizers known as phthalates. Because PVC is by nature a brittle plastic, manufacturers add in additional chemicals (known as plasticizers) to make PVC toys pliable. Phthalates are the most commonly added plasticizers today, but have been under increasing scrutiny because of their potential harmful health effects, particularly on reproductive development.
Toys and other children’s products made for the European market today are likely to contain alternative plasticizers, as the European Union bans phthalates from most toys and children’s products. The state of California passed legislation in 2007 with the same restrictions. Although Washington state has been a leader in protecting children’s health from toxic chemicals, no restrictions on phthalate use are currently in place for products sold in Washington.
We purchased toys at major retailers including Target, Fred Meyer, Meijer, and Toys “R” Us, drugstores such as Bartell Drugs and Rite Aid, toy stores, and dollar stores. We tested the toys using an XRF (x-ray fluorescence) analyzer to determine whether they were made of PVC. We selected 20 PVC toys to be tested for phthalates, including toys used by children of a range of ages but with a focus on those that could be used by small children.