Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buy inexpensive toys for kids with caution

Christmas, indeed, is in the air! Christmas songs are everywhere—in jeepneys and other public utility vehicles, streets, schools, homes. People from different walks of life are frequently seen in malls, markets or bazaars buying ingredients for dishes to be prepared, new clothes to wear, presents for loved ones. With only a few days left before Christmas, many Filipinos are busy doing their last-minute shopping and buy what they ought to buy or think they do.
For the crammers out there, be careful on what products to purchase, especially gift items for kids, because you absolutely cannot err on the side of danger and end up marking less than happy holidays.

Toxic toys
Inexpensive toys can be found in some public markets and malls, including those in Manila’s Divisoria area. It is alleged that some of them are being sold there because licensing problems prevent such toys from being sold in legitimate stores.

Helen Ocampo, an engineer with the Bureau of Health Devices and Technology (BHDT) under the Department of Health, told The Manila Times during a recent interview that there are products that are banned or had been removed from the market because they exceed the amounts of Lead (Pb), Cadmium (Cd), Chromium (Cr), Mercury (Hg), Selenium (Se), Antimony (Sb), Arsenic (As) and Barium (Ba) in them.

When the quantities of these chemicals in the inexpensive toys exceed the allowable limit, negative health effects among children are highly possible, BHDT said.

For instance, Lead might cause mental and physical retardation, behavioral problems and learning disorders and it drastically reduces attention span.

Cadmium causes stomach irritation, which leads to vomiting and diarrhea and possible kidney diseases.

Chromium might bring on stomach upsets and ulcers, convulsions, kidney and liver damage.

Mercury can cause brain damage, as indicated by changes in vision or hearing and lapses in memory problems, lung damage, increases in blood pressure/heart rate, skin rashes and eye irritation.

Selenium gives children brittle hair and deformed nails and causes them to lose feeling in and control of their arms and legs.

Antimony might cause vomiting and Arsenic can be behind lower IQ and increased mortality in young adults.

Enter phthalates in children’s toys.

Phthalates (pronounced as THAL-ates) are a class of chemicals that are made from alcohol and phthalic anhydride.

These also are organic chemicals produced from oil and used as plasticizers and softening agents for Polyvynyl Chloride (PVC).

There is a wide range of products with phthalates such as building materials, cosmetic products, medical devices, vynyl upholstery, floor tiles, food containers and wrappers, cleaning materials and children’s toys.

Thony Dizon, the coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats), said during a recent interview that infants’ or kids’ toys with phthalates are carcinogenic and may cause serious health problems such as kidney, liver and respiratory diseases—which may develop depending on how often a child or a person is exposed to phthalate-containing products.

According to Dizon, such toys with phthalates could weaken the immune system.

He said that disposal of phthalate-containing products such as kids’ toys poses an environmental problem in that these products do not easily decompose.

Just throwing them away could compromise the health of people who will have contact or exposure to the phthalate-containing products.

Thermal decomposition or burning phthalates may release oxides of carbon and other gases or vapors that will be hazardous to health.

Govt warning
The government has warned the public about negative health effects of the phthalates since 1999.

The warning, apparently, has been unheeded, as indicated by the continuous selling of phthalate-containing toys allegedly in some of the Divisoria malls.

The Health department has advised manufacturers and retailers to voluntarily stop selling soft PVC toys and infant-care products containing phthalates.

EcoWaste Coalition, a “green” organization, last month bought assorted toys with prices ranging from P18 to P150 last month from stores in Divisoria.

It had these toys, all imported from China, analyzed for phthalates at Intertek Thailand through Intertek Testing Services Philippines Inc.

Laboratory tests proved that the batch contained phthalates and showed that six out of seven toys exceeded the 0.1-percent mass limit set by the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 for children’s toys and child-care articles.

The only sample that passed the test was a doll containing .04 percent of Diethyl Hexyl Phthalate (DEHP).

A squeeze ball toy contains 10.81 percent DEHP and 15.75 Di-iso-nonyl Phthalate (DINP); a shrilly chirping chicken toy, 19.11 percent DEHP; a floating-duck toy, 18.97 percent; a tiger toy, 4.27 percent DEHP and 2.27 DINP; a “Super Mario” toy, 17.08 percent DEHP; and a squeaky “Winnie the Pooh” toy, 33.16 percent.

EcoWaste Coalition data also show that none of the assorted toys was labeled as containing phthalates and only one was labeled as being made from PVC.

Furthermore, the laboratory-test results proved high levels of DEHP and DINP.

The European Union has banned phthalate-containing toys since 1999 and the United State, since 2008.

Japan will ban such toys starting 2011.

Here, there are pending bills filed in the Senate and the House of the Representatives seeking to prohibit selling of phthalate-containing toys.

In choosing toys for kids, read first the safety precautions and see if the toys are phthalate-free or not.

Have yourself a Merry—and safe—Christmas!


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