Santa shocked retailers across the nation today with the official release of his Very Naughty List, on it were all toys and treats for tots and pets made in China. While parents cheered the news, the Big Box retailers who depend on goods made in China had an apoplectic fit.
Santa doesn’t give a hoot about the economic impact his Naughty List will have, because his concern is only for the safety and welfare of children and animals. Manufacturers in China and the retailers who profit from the toxic goods on hid Naughty List have the added humiliation of knowing the only thing that will be in their Christmas stockings this year will be a dirty ol’ lump of coal.
When it came to Santa’s attention that, not only were the toys made for children poisonous, but so were the toys and treats for pets, he knew what he had to do – put them on his Naughty List (or as the Elves call it, his Sh*t List).
The story of how Santa became involved with goods from China began with Santa’s Elves, desperately overworked and in need of some well deserved Elfin downtime, Santa made a decision that would forever haunt him. With the world’s population bursting at the seams, Santa’s Workshop at the Pole soon found they simply couldn’t meet the demand for cheap toys and stocking stuffers. So Santa made the ill-fated decision to outsource production to China.
It wasn’t long before Santa realized something was terribly wrong. Elves in charge of handling the goods noticed their fur falling out and their pointy ears developing angry-looking rashes. Some of the male Elves were mortified to discover they were growing boobs.
Deeply concerned for the welfare of his Elves, he had the products tested for contaminates. What he found was so disturbing, the heavy metals found and toxic chemicals in the materials used to make the toys, Santa had a meltdown.
Normally a jolly, merry fellow with a particular fondness for cocoa and cookies, Santa took to taking the odd nip now and again of the Elves’ secret stash of scotch. When Mrs. Claus, noticing Santa’s skill behind the reigns slipping, his sleigh weaving haphazardly, knew there was something terribly wrong when Santa totalled the sleigh. Mrs. Claus quickly realized what was the matter and checked her hubby into rehab. What had once appeared to be the answer to his overworked Elves’ prayers, soon turned into a Hellish nightmare for the frazzled Elves.
Soon, Santa, with the help of a 12 step-program and a prescription for Valium, felt ready to take on the world again. Once Santa was released from the hospital, after making amends to Mrs. Claus and the Elves, Santa vowed never again to compromise the health and safety of his Elves for the sake of keeping up with consumer demand. With that, he pulled the plug on all future production in China.
What Santa Didn’t Know Came Back to Bite Him in the Ass
More than 80% of all toys are made in China. In the past decade, toys made in China, which produces two-thirds of all the toys in the world, have repeatedly been shown to be toxic. Many are potential killers. One-third of toys tested in China contain heavy metals at levels of concern, with one in 10 containing excessive levels of lead, according to new research.
The top five lead-contaminated products contained truly shocking levels ranging from 12,467-120,960 ppm; products far above the new lead standard allowed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for children’s toys — 100 parts per million (PPM).
A wide range of toys and children’s products, including those sold by reputable brands, contained either lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, antimony or chromium. All six heavy metals can cause permanent damage to a child’s nervous and immune systems.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that there is no safe threshold for lead exposure and that children, if possible, should never be in contact with it. Decades of research has shown that ingestion of lead, even at extremely low levels, can cause severe developmental delays in children, especially those under the age of six, as well as myriad other health problems.
What Drove Santa to Drink
HealthyStuff.org tested over 400 dog and cat products, including chew toys, stuffed toys, tennis balls, collars, leashes, and beds. More than 90% of the pet products tested were made in China. Since there are no government standards for hazardous chemicals in pet products, it is not surprising that there were alarming levels of toxic chemicals found.
After testing the dog and cat toy products with a metal analyzer found lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury toxins in toys designed to be chewed, tugged and carried in the mouth. Overall, 45% of the pet products contained detectable levels of one or more hazardous chemicals, the group found. Half of the pet collars tested positive for lead, and 25% of those were beyond the level of safety advised for children’s toys, posing a threat to their health. One quarter of the pet products tested were found to contain lead, and about 28 items had more than 100 ppm of lead.
The substances they tested positive for – lead, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and mercury – can seriously damage the nervous system, and can enter the body through breathing, the skin or mucous membranes and contaminated food. These contaminated toys not only poison children and pets when chewed or touched, but can enter the body through the air they breathe.
The Siamese in the Sitting Room
Are you familiar with the Canary in the Coal Mine? Now there’s the Beagle in the Bedroom, the Siamese in the Sitting Room. Pets are considered the canary in the coal mine in terms of chemical exposure. HealthyStuff.org’s tests revealed even higher levels of toxins in the pet products it tested than for toys for children. The group warned that children can be exposed to the chemicals in these products because they play with their pets toys and often put them in their mouths.
Bad Toy, Bad, Bad Toy!
Which pet products contained some of the highest levels of lead and other hazardous chemicals? Tests revealed the exterior of a name brand bed for dogs had 1,755 ppm of lead and 182 ppm of brominated flame retardants (BFR). A pet collar contained 532 ppm of lead, 75 ppm of arsenic, and 8 ppm of mercury. And the mouse on a toy for cats contained 593 ppm of lead and 56 ppm of BFR.
Tennis for dogs, anyone? Half of the tennis balls for pets tested contained lead. They found an astounding 27,200 ppm lead levels in the ink on the balls. On the other hand, when sporting tennis balls for humans were tested, no lead was found in the tennis balls made by Wilson and or other sporting goods makers.
Toxicologists know there is a connection between the chemicals and levels in pet products to the levels seen in cats and dogs. In terms of bio monitoring (a scientific technique to determine exposure to natural and synthetic chemicals) there is a connection between the brominated flame retardants (BFRs) showing up in these products and the levels showing up in pets. The growth of hyperthyroidism in cats could be related to the brominated flame retardants in these products. Tests have shown the BFR exposure in cats is 23 times higher than humans.
Wal-Mart, the Grinch that Stole Christmas
ConsumerAffairs.com randomly chose just four Chinese-made Wal-Mart marketed pet toys for cats and dogs from a Wal-Mart store and tested them for the presence of heavy metals and other toxins. Here is what they found:
Two of those toys tested — a latex one that looked like a green monster and cloth catnip toy — contained what the lab’s director, forensic toxicologist Dr. Ernest Lykissa called, elevated levels of lead, chromium, cadmium, arsenic and mercury.
The green monster toy, he said, contained elevated levels of lead — 907.4 micrograms per kilogram. That’s almost one part per million, Dr. Lykissa said. With that kind of concentration, if a dog is chewing on it or licking it, he’s getting a good source of lead. The green monster toy also contained what Dr. Lykissa considered high levels of the cancer-producing agent chromium — 334.9 micrograms per kilogram. With that kind of chromium in there you have what can be an extremely toxic toy if they (animals) put it in their mouths, he said. If a dog puts this in his mouth, he runs a big chance of getting some type of metal toxicity that may shorten his life.
The cloth catnip cat toy tested positive for a tremendous amount of the toxic metal cadmium 236 micrograms per kilograms. On the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] priority list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment, cadmium ranks No. 7.
A cloth hedgehog dog toy and a plastic dumbbell toy for cats both contained cadmium. The lab determined these toxins were easily accessed and could be acquired from the toy with a simple lick of the dog’s or cat’s tongue.
Wal-Mart actually recalled children’s toys which are quite similar to their lead-containing pet toys. These Chinese-made, Wal-Mart children’s toys are sold at a similar price, without a brand, in packaging very similar to that containing their toxic pet toys. If these toys are not safe enough for your children, should your pet be playing with them? That’s something that somebody out there (besides Santa) ought to be worried about.
Yet, despite test results proving otherwise, Wal-Mart tells consumers that “Wal-Mart works with an independent laboratory that conducts some lead and toxicology tests as part of its overall product safety testing”, details of which are not made public. Would you trust the health and safety of your children and pets to Wal-Mart?
PetSmart says they conduct both random in-house and third-party tests for a large range of toxic substances on its toys. They claim they require its vendors to meet the same standards established for human safety. It is against company policy, however, for PetsMart to divulge information about the frequency and extent of the tests.
Dr. Steffes & His Dog Tashie, A Personal Story
A veterinarian became concerned about toxicity in pet toys after Tashie, his 6-year-old Doberman pinscher, developed ulcers in her mouth that eventually produced an inch-and-half lump that veterinarian Dr. Steffes had to remove. To pinpoint the cause, Steffes began to observe the things Tashie chewed. He quickly settled on her favorite rope toys, all of which came from China. Steffes took no chances. He took away Tashie’s colored rope toys and started giving her toys without dyes. The infection cleared up. Chromium is often used in dyes, he notes. Scientists do not consider most forms of chromium a health hazard. Research suggest, however, that one of the element’s oxidation states, called chromium (VI) or hexavalent chromium, can cause cancer or pose other hazards if eaten or inhaled. In addition, compounds known as chromium salts, or chromates, have been implicated in triggering allergic reactions.
Birds Fly Under the Radar
Avian veterinarians warn bird parents objects meant for other uses that people give to their birds as toys can be dangerous as lead and zinc poison are the most common toxicities seen in birds. Toys meant for children or cats and dogs are especially worrisome, but because birds love the taste of lead (who knew?) dangers for birds lurk more in household objects such as chains, jewelry, and fishing weights that birds put in their mouths.
Politics of the Plate
Hungry anyone? For lead, that is. Lead was found in ceramic plates, bowls, teacups, spoons and other items that were made in the China, a recent study found. Among all this kitchen ware, up to 25% of the products were lead-positive. One ceramic food dish found lead levels at 2,890 ppm. “We were astounded – astounded – to find so many of them positive for lead,” said Dr. Gerald O’Malley, a toxicologist who spearheaded the study and warned that lead in Chinese products presents a serious public health threat. Lead in eating utensils can seep into food and beverages, poisoning unsuspecting innocents.
No Safe Threshold
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there is no safe threshold for lead content in the human body and children should have no exposure to the substance. For example, lead, which is highly toxic and cumulative, will trigger obstacles for a child’s mental and physical development and learning ability. Animal experiments have demonstrated that health hazards caused by exposure to heavy metals in childhood are likely to continue throughout their entire lives.
Though there is possibility that children may swallow a toy, it is more common for them to touch, chew or sniff it. And what holds true for children is also particularly relevant to pets who handle objects almost exclusively with their mouths. Dogs are perhaps the most vulnerable as it is their habit to use their powerful jaws to chew the bejeezus out of them and swallow bits of the toys they mutilated.
Although there is a standard limit set for lead in the U.S. for children’s toys, it bears repeating that there are, however, no government standards for levels of lead or other toxins in pet products.
Catching the Bad Santa’s
Santa was one of the more conscientious importers, he had his tested his goods before they went on the boat to America, but most importers will forgo the expense of testing. Catching tainted products before they enter the U.S. is nearly impossible: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors examine less than 2% of all imported [food] items, and the handful of FDA officials stationed in China conducted only 13 food inspections between June 2009 and June 2010.
The public doesn’t know a toy is dangerous until a child gets hurt or there’s the report of a serious complaint and a subsequent recall takes place—but sometimes, it takes more than one incident or injury to be reported before a recall is issued. And the slow cumulative effects of damage caused by the toxins may take months or even years to appear in children or pets, leaving parents unable to ever clearly determine the source of the problem.
Danger, Up Ahead
The danger of toxic toys isn’t going away, and some market dynamics are creating new problems. The Beijing government currently is instituting minimum-wage hikes, which increase factory expenses. Because Chinese exporters don’t want to raise prices and lose their competitive cost advantage, the hit to the bottom line is tempting many manufacturers to cut corners related to product content and safety. Whether it’s for containing harmful chemicals such as lead and cadmium, sharp edges or small parts, there are many reasons to avoid the “Product of China” label when toy shopping this holiday season.
Dear Santa, Help!
How can you protect your pet? Santa was kind enough to provide me with his list of pet toy do’s and don’ts.
Do’s Do your research. Check with the manufacturers of your pet’s toys; ask for proof of their safety testing. Strongly consider discarding your pet’s current products which are made in China. When buying new products, look for items made in the United States (although that is no guarantee of safety either). It’s important to remember that China isn’t the only Bad Santa. Because America’s chemical safety laws are broken, we are exposed to untested chemicals in products every day. Regardless of where the toys were made, chew toys might contain plastic softeners, foam beds might be infused or coated with fire retardants and stain-proofing chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects, and plastic water bowls might leach hormone disruptors.
Don’ts Santa suggests we avoid any soft plastic, vinyl, brightly painted, rhinestone, charm or trinket item as they are likely to contain one or more toxic heavy metals. Avoid toys made of latex, as they are more likely to contain lead. When looking at plastics, avoid toys that list vinyl/PVC as ingredients. Soft plastic toys are commonly made of vinyl, which can contain lead, phthalates, or other harmful chemicals. Safer, PVC-free versions of popular items can be found at Lullaby Organics, Rosie Hippo, Dandelion for Baby, or Planet Happy Kids. OK, the toys are for kids, but some fur kids (like cats), they might not chew them to bits.
Observe Though the tags say to throw away a toy once it becomes torn, most of us let our pets destroy their toys until they’re unrecognizable or obviously hazardous. Sometimes the innards of toys hold the worst chemicals, like flame retardants in stuffing or lead in the parts that reinforce tougher toys. So, it might not be a bad idea to pay extra attention to what your critters are putting in their mouths and get rid of toys that have seen better days.
Visit A great resource for more great ideas and information about product safety is the non-profit Healthy Stuff website. Their website is a great first stop for checking out specific toys and products. The results are searchable; you can sort by category, toxicity level or brand.
Think outside the toy box If you’re crafty or creative, be on the safe side and make your own toys – it’s easy and fun! Buy your own catnip at a health food store (or grow your own – I do). I put my (organic) catnip in tiny socks for infants, it doesn’t get any cuter than that! Or you could make this cute dog toy out of dish towels, all you have to know is how to make a braid. The ideas are simply endless. And healthy. Your pets will love you for it.
Kickin’ the Grinch to the Curb
Contact the manufacturers of your favorite products and let them know you want safe products for your furry friend (and let the ones with healthy products know you appreciate them!). The pet industry is huge — it’s our dollars that have gotten it there and it’s our dollars that can impact where it goes next.
Why? Because we don’t want cancer-causing flame retardants and other bad things in our pet’s or our children’s products and nor does Santa. We want Grinchy companies to stop replacing one toxic chemical with another in products made for kids and pets.
‘Tis the Season to Ban Toxic Chemicals, Fa La La, La La La
Santa thinks legislators need to hear from us more than ever. Already the big, bad, mean old chemical industry and other big companies owned by the Grinch are mounting their opposition and sending lobbyists to Washington to keep things the way they are. Boo! Hiss!
You may have written a letter to Santa, but have you written your legislator? Please tell legislators not to be a “Toxic Grinch” to support the The Safe Chemicals Act that puts the burden on Grinchy chemical companies to prove their products are safe before they end up in our homes and our bodies! As pet Mums and Dads, we’re used to speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. We mustn’t forget what this season is really about and that’s to make it a happy healthy one for you, your children and your pets!
More than you probably ever wanted to know about toxic pet toys list of links:
Toxic heavy metals found in children’s products on the Chinese market (ipen-china.org)
Toxic heavy metals found in children’s products on the Chinese market (greenpeace.org)
Chemical-flavored chew toys? (ecologyaction.org)
One third of Chinese toys contain heavy metals (telegraph.co.uk)
Trouble in Toyland (uspirg.org)
Report Finds Toxins Common in Products for Children, Pets (consumeraffairs.com)
Toxic Toys: Is There Lead Lurking in Your Pet Supplies? (petplace.com)
Beware of Toxic Chinese Toys (detnews.com)
Pooch Poison: Lead Found in Dog Toys (komonews.com)
Beware of Lead and Toxic Dog Toys (thebark.com)
Toxic pet toys? (a vet and his dog)
Toxic metals common in kids’ goods (chinadaily)
Eye on China (foodquality.com)
Consumer Product Safety Commission (cpsp.gov)