Playing with Poison

By  | December 18, 2008 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Posts by M. Boilard

Toxins have been around for a long time; some are natural to our environment, but more are the by-products of our industrialized society. Today scientists are discovering just how persistent and pervasive these toxins are. Scientists are also discovering that we are overdosing…cumulatively speaking…our own children before their bodies are mature enough to deal with the onslaught.

As a Canadian, but mostly as a mother, I am stunned and outraged by the news that we are unknowingly poisoning our own children through toxin laden toys. When did Canada become so pathetically lax in this regard; that we would invite toxic products into this country, specifically targeting children? All the articles I have read on this topic give Canada this dubious reputation. Apparently, an attempt was made to dissuade the use of toxins in toys through a voluntary ban throughout North America in the last decade, but obviously when given the choice, the manufacturers producing these toys chose to continue.

The European Union and the U.S. are in the fore-front with the banning of ‘phthalates’ and other toxins in the production of toys. As a result of this decreased market for these undesirable products, the manufacturers are now legally flooding Canada with their poison…just in time for Christmas.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and scent plastics, which are widely used in toys that are mouthed by children, such as bath toys, teethers, pacifiers and other items used in the feeding of infants. Phthalates are an array of hormone-mimicking chemicals or ‘endocrine disruptors’ (see my Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails posted Nov. 19th) that can lead to obesity, problems with reproductive systems, neurological damage, and hormone-dependant cancers.

Through a vast array of tests, Health Canada has found that in toys geared for children between the age group of 0 to 3 years, an unbelievable 76% contained levels of phthalates that are currently not acceptable in the U.S or the E.U. Some of the levels of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a phthalate, ranged from .3 to 39.9 % of weight. Toys with a percentage of anything exceeding 0.1% have been banned by the EU since 1999. The U.S. is proceeding with this same policy as of February ‘09. Canada has yet to start with any type of meaningful legislation to control phthalates and other toxins in toys.

Some of the major manufacturers, which include Hasbro and Mattel, have voluntarily discontinued using phthalates in their toy lines after Europe initiated the ban. Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Sears Canada have announced that their shelves will no longer stock toys containing phthalates as of 2009, so the scandalous toxic-toy era will no doubt gradually come to an end…but in Canada…when, is a good question. Many smaller toy manufacturers continue to use these chemicals because they are cheap alternatives, and as long as there are markets, like Canada that readily accept them, they will continue their productions for profit.

Canadian shelves also hold toys containing lead, the use of which should have been discontinued ages ago. Everyone knows lead has devastating effects to the developing brains and motor skills of children. Lead, however appeals to unscrupulous manufacturers because it is cheap and malleable, particularly for children’s costume jewellery. U.S. studies have estimated that 35% of the children poisoned by lead were through items brought home from the store.

In Canada, no comprehensive studies of lead levels in children have been undertaken for the past 30 years. Tests have recently commenced, but results have yet to be seen. It must be noted however that in 2002 Health Canada ‘proposed’ that it be illegal to sell a pacifier containing more than 90 parts per million of lead. My question here would be: What dose of lead is safe for a baby?

Our Canadian government has been well aware of the poisonous trade imported from places like China, but has yet to put any regulatory policy in place to protect our children. Canada has a poor track record when dealing with hazardous substances in children’s toys. Even asbestos has found its way into Canadian toy boxes.

With today’s economic and political climate in Canada, it’s doubtful that our government’s thoughts will be on toys anytime soon. So please, parents, carefully inspect the toys you buy. If the label suggests PVC- polyvinyl chloride- or has a recycling symbol No.3… buy something else. Informative articles on this subject suggest that if the words ‘phthalates free’ are not on the label…leave it in the store. Do the same with that cheap, little-girl, costume jewellery …realistically, it’s not that pretty. And as for those pacifiers with unidentified origins, may I suggest the thumb as an old fashioned and healthier alternative.

M.B.

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m_boilard@sympatico.ca'

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