Pre-school children in the United States may have to wait a while to see the return of their favourite toys, including Sesame Street’s Big Bird and Elmo, and Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer, after toy manufacturers in the US, including Fisher Price, banned huge batches of toys made in China after tests showed they contained quantities of poisonous lead.
Lead paint has been linked to health problems in children, including learning disabilities and permanent brain damage.
Mattel Inc, which owns Fisher Price, said the Chinese manufacturer had used a non-approved paint pigment containing lead over the level of 0.06% in the toys, thereby violating safety standards.
How poisonous is lead?
Lead is a poisonous chemical that hijacks the developing brain. It causes damage by mimicking helpful metals found naturally in the body such as calcium, iron and zinc.
Lead displaces these chemicals and disrupts brain circuits that are critical for learning. According to physicians, occasional exposure to small amounts is unlikely to have serious health effects, but repeated exposure could cause a decline in IQ and, in extreme cases, severe brain damage.
New research, in fact, suggests that there is no safe level of lead exposure. This has forced the World Health Organisation to tighten its guidelines in the past year.
Toxic tour of your home
While 1.5 million Fisher Price toys may have been recalled for fear of lead contamination, we all live with hundreds of other toxics right in our homes.
Did you know that personal care products, household cleaners, paints, hobby products, solvents -- all these very common household products can cause severe health problems?
According to an article published in The Ecologist, more than 400 toxic chemicals -- many found in household products and in food -- have been found in human blood.
Personal health vs vanity
The US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates that around 884 chemicals used in personal care products like deodorants, after-shave, talcum powder and cosmetics are known to be toxic.
It is estimated that women absorb up to two kilograms of chemicals through toiletries and cosmetics every year!
Dying to colour your hair? Think again!
Health experts believe that long-term use of dark hair dye increases the risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), a type of cancer, by up to four times. Hair dye has also been implicated in breast cancer.
Most of the soaps, shampoos and bubble baths used today also contain synthetic sodium laurel sulphate, or sodium laureth sulphate (SLS). This highly potent de-greasing agent can destroy delicate eye tissue.
The American Journal of Toxicology reported that SLS irritates skin tissue, corrodes hair follicles and impairs the ability of hair to grow. It also enters the heart, liver, lungs and brain.
Would you have imagined brushing your teeth could be a risk? Read on…
According to health experts, ingesting large quantities of fluoride, a substance that is more toxic than lead, causes dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis, a crippling bone disease. Fluoride is a waste product from the aluminium industry that is put into toothpaste!
Your favourite poison?
Poison may be the name of a famous perfume by a well-known brand. But beware! Perfumes in general could be a danger to your health.
Although perfume manufacturers are protected by law to keep their ingredients a secret, research by some doctors and chemists suggest that more than 5,000 chemicals are used in perfume manufacture.
These are easily absorbed through the skin and reach major organs where they accumulate. The rise in asthma cases in children has often been linked to perfumes.
Many of these toxins are capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic conditions. They can also cause psychological, emotional and physiological changes in the human body.
Time to relax and go to sleep at the end of a hard day?
Think again. Ever wondered what chemicals could have been used in the bed you sleep on?
According to the popular environmental affairs magazine The Ecologist, formaldehyde, a chemical used to glue wood together and to produce self-hardening insulating foam is the most damaging and persistent chemical found in the home.
Over the years, formaldehyde has come to be used in latex paints, fabrics, automotive resins (materials) and cheap furniture. Few houses today are likely to be without it in some form or the other.
Within two or three years, products made with formaldehyde release chemical particles in the air, in a process called ‘outgassing’. Inhaling these fumes cause flu-like symptoms, rashes, neurological illness and, ultimately, cancer.
Many room fresheners, sprays and carpet cleaners release large quantities of chemical vapours, causing headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, eye, throat and lung irritations, skin rashes, burns and liver damage.
Last, but not least, is the so-called ‘harmless’ dish-washing soap that could be responsible for giving the whole family a stomach upset. Most detergents are extremely toxic, containing poisonous chlorine in a highly concentrated dry form. In the US, these detergents are the primary cause of child poisoning.
Now you know that the list of chemicals present in your home could be endless. But the idea is not to scare you. It’s to make you aware of these pollutants so that the next time you go shopping with your parents you are armed with the knowledge to protect yourself and your entire family.
(Durga Chandran is a post-graduate in Communication Studies from Pune University, with a specialisation in Media Research. She has worked with Cinema Vision India, Mumbai and written for The Times of India, Pune)
InfoChange News & Features, August 2007