Targeting toxins in your child's toys

Published On: Mar 19 2012 11:28:30 AM EDT

What your children are playing with could cause them serious health problems later in life.  One in three children's toys tested by the Ecology Center contained lead, arsenic and other toxic chemicals. 

Jennifer Taggart is trying to track down toxic toys and she's demanding change.  And she's doing it armed with a powerful blog and a handheld X-ray fluorescence analyzer or XRF gun.

"It's not just children's products, it's everything," says Taggart.

An environmental lawyer and former engineer, Taggart's new mission is to find toys, cups, bags-anything that could be harmful to your health and let the public know about it.

"Everything that I tested that was vinyl had lead in it," says Taggart.

Lead exposure has been linked to heart disease and cancer in adults. In children, it's behavior and intellect problems.

"You can get exposed but you don't realize the kind of chronic, low-level exposure is effecting a child's development, and you don't even realize it until they're in kindergarten and it's irreversible," says Taggart.

Her gun tracks lead, cadmium and mercury.

"When you're doing toys, you can find lead in the plastic and also sometimes in the wheels are vinyl. Right now it's testing almost 7,000 parts per million...so it's well above the standard for children's toys," explains Taggart.

Although lead is banned in children's toys, toy makers are now switching to cadmium.

"It's more toxic technically, than lead," she says.

Taggart was part of a group of activists who found cadmium in McDonald's glasses.

"On one of the glasses it was 5,000 parts per million," explains Taggart.

A heavy metal listed as a carcinogen by the EPA was found in the paint.

"On the Shrek glass, it was the green that tested high," says Taggart.

They reported what they found to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A week later, McDonald's recalled 12 million Shrek glasses.

"I got a lot of hate mail on my blog," says Taggart.

A report in www.healthystuff.org found high cadmium levels in 48 percent of toys tested and 78 percent were made with PVS or polyvinyl chloride, which is often contaminated with lead.  And it's not just toys. She says to beware of cheap, costume jewelry.

"I had a charm that was 73 percent lead," says Taggart.

To her, every fake purse is a red flag. This vinyl one tested 31 hundred parts per million. It should be no more than 200 parts per million. To protect yourself, Taggart says never buy vinyl. Toys should only be painted with vegetable-based dye and take off your shoes at the door.

"We track it in on our shoes. You can reduce lead exposure by taking off your shoes by as much as 65 percent, which is a no-cost, easy solution," says Taggart.

And the first step, is to stay informed. Taggart warns one of the most harmful toxins to our health: household pesticides. Exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase your child's risk of leukemia by a factor of nine.

Taggart recommends looking for natural ways to kill pests.  For instance, she says mice hate mint. If you have a rodent problem, plant mint around your home.

If would like to learn more about toxic chemicals in your home, you can visit Jennifer Taggart's website at the www.thesmartmama.com.

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