Even branded plastic toys sold in India markets cause asthma, lung problems and reproductive problems in children due to high toxic levels, says a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). In its latest study released on Friday, CSE's pollution monitoring laboratory found high levels of phthalates, a chemical used to soften plastic, in all samples of toys it tested. Over 45 percent of the samples exceeded the internationally accepted safety limits for phthalates.
"We randomly purchased 24 toys from different parts of Delhi, especially those toys that children are more likely to chew and suck. Out of 24 toys, 15 were soft and nine were hard. These toys were manufactured in China (14), India (7), Taiwan (2) and Thailand (1)," said CSE Associate Director Chandra Bhushan.
"The sample included major brands like Funskool and Mattel. In our test we detected one or more phthalates in all toys. Taiwanese and Chinese toys were the most contaminated. Taiwan toys exceeded the safe limits by 100 percent. While eight out of 14 toys manufactured in China exceeded the limits," he said.According to Bhushan, only one Indian toy manufacturer exceeded the safety limits.
"Pip Squeaks, a toy manufactured by Funskool Ltd, for 3-18 months old had highest levels of phthalates. It exceeded the standards by 162 times. Worse, the label on the toy says - non-toxic, suitable for ages 3-18 months," Bhushan said. "In totality 60 percent of soft toys and 20 percent of hard toys exceeded the safe limits," he said.
Phthalates are organic chemicals commonly used as plasticisers to make plastic supple. It helps in making plastic products cheap and easy--and toxic.
The chemical can damage the male reproductive system, impair the lungs and affect the duration of pregnancy. Laboratory tests on mammals have indicated that it can also trigger asthma, allergies, poor semen quality, genital defects, premature breast development and skeletal defects.
"Children under three years are more likely to be exposed to phthalates because they tend to chew and suck on plastic toys and since their metabolic, endocrine and reproductive systems are immature, they are more vulnerable as well," said CSE director Sunita Narain.
Narain said India has no regulations to control the use of phthalates in toys. "It only has voluntary standards covering safety aspects of toys. On January 23, the government ban on import of toys not meeting these standards will end. In the unregulated free-for-all that threatens to follow, the health of children will be compromised, putting them at a huge risk." Bhushan said as the regulation on imports expires on January 23, the government has two options.
"Either regulate all toys, both domestic production and imports. Second, and the easier option, let the order expire and leave the entire market unregulated, endangering the health and safety of children. As things stand now, the government does not want to make the effort to make standards mandatory for all," he said.
CSE is a non-governmental organization working on environment and research.