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Dangers Lurking in Soft, Cuddly Toys

Children are being exposed to the risk of liver damage or disruption in mental health due to alarming levels of lead and cadmium found in plastic and other soft toys sold in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai, says a new study.

"Dangerous levels of lead and cadmium have been found in PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and soft toys being sold in the markets," said Toxics Link, an environmental non-governmental organisation. Soft toys account for 35 percent of India's total production of toys.

With no legal and binding standards that stipulate the safety limits of the heavy metal contents in toys, internally manufactured or those imported, the issue of safety is left largely up to the manufacturers' discretion and judgment, the report states.

"Since a large number of toys are imported into India, cheaply, or are made in the informal sector, with little or no quality control, it was important and appropriate to examine the issue of lead and cadmium in toys," said Ravi Agarwal, director Toxics Link at a press conference in New Delhi.

"It is common to see small children and infants chew and play with soft plastic toys, which are the subject of this investigation."

Lead and cadmium are proven poisons, being neurotoxins and nephrotoxins. Neurotoxins are agents that can cause toxic effects on the nervous system while nephrotoxins are agents that can cause toxic effects on the kidney.

Even the tiniest amounts can have long-term and measurable effects on children, while at the same time displaying no distinctive symptoms.

Lead being a cumulative in nature is absorbed into the blood stream, some of it is filtered out and excreted, but the rest is distributed in the liver, brain, kidneys and bones.

All toys samples examined contained varying concentration of lead and cadmium. Eight samples (close to 30 percent) from Mumbai contained more than US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standard of 200 ppm of lead in vinyl blinds. Five samples (close to 20 percent) had more than 600 ppm of lead, which is the limit set by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for painted toys.

Seeking to draw attention of policymakers and researchers, Agarwal said: "We hope this study will help trigger off larger investigations both in the amounts of heavy metals as well as the exposure they cause to children."

Toxic Links has been specifically researching and working on areas of migration of heavy metals like lead and cadmium in vegetables, as well as use of mercury in various sectors like lighting, chloral alkali, healthcare and traditional medicines.

The samples of toys were collected from Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai as they are India's largest manufacturer and supply centres for unbranded toys to their surrounding suburban and rural areas.

Mumbai and Delhi account for nearly 95 percent of the toy production in India.

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