Next time you buy a toy for your little ones, be more cautious as a new study says many of them may contain a toxic chemical which can prove dangerous for children especially those below three years.
A lab testing of random samples of various brands of toys available at Delhi markets found the presence of phthalates that can cause health disorders like allergy, asthma, skeletal defects, damage male reproductive system and impair lungs of children, Sunita Narain, director of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), told reporters here on Friday.
The study by CSE found over 45 per cent of the samples exceeded internationally accepted safe limits for phthalates.
"What is shocking is that many brands had labels like 'non-toxic, safe for use'. Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastic. So soft and inflatable toys can be more dangerous for the children who tend to put these in their mouth," Chandra Bhushan, associate director of CSE, said.
The study assumes significance as the ban on import of toys, not meeting voluntary standards issued by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), will end on January 23.
"But even these BIS standards do not cover phthalates while the European Union and the US have long back restricted the use of some phthalates in toys and child care articles to 0.1 per cent," Narain said.
The study noted that the Taiwanese and Chinese toys were the most contaminated.
"Of the 24 samples picked randomly, 14 were found to be from China and 2 from Taiwan. 57 per cent of China-made toys and 100 per cent of Taiwan-made toys crossed the safe limit," Chandra Bhushan said.
India had banned import of toys from China on safety grounds in January last year. However, when China threatened to take the issue to WTO, New Delhi allowed import of Chinese toys if they show independent lab certificates that they meet voluntary Indian standards. Later the notification was broadened to cover imports from all countries.
"The government, while making it mandatory for imports to conform to standards, does not ask of its own industry to meet the same. This is clearly a non-tariff barrier to trade and China threatened to approach the WTO on this basis," Narain said.
"The regulation on imports expires on January 23. The government has two options. Either regulate all toys, both domestic production and imports, or let the order expire and leave the entire market unregulated," she said.
The CSE lab tested 24 toy samples -- 15 soft toys and nine hard toys. All were found to have presence of one or more phthalates.
When asked whether manufacturers can avoid use of the chemical, Chandra Bhushan said, "Yes we have alternatives. Some of them are already making toys without PVC and polythene, but the products are only meant for exporting."
Rajesh Arora, general secretary of the Toy Association of India claimed the toy industry, which clocked 20 per cent growth in exports in 2008-09, is already meeting western standards for phthalates for export products.
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