Environmental connections to public health >>
There’s Toxic Antimony in Baby Bibs, Clothing, Toys and Games
With all of the chemicals that get put into consumer products, it can be difficult to protect our children from toxic hazards. Knowing what to look for and what kids’ products contain harmful chemicals is the first step.
For example, antimony, an obscure metal, is widely used in consumer products. It can be a pigment, and the compound antimony trioxide is used as a flame retardant in textiles and plastics. It also turns up in baby bibs, children’s shoes and clothes and in toys and games.
Antimony is toxic. Several states list it as a priority chemical in children’s products. In Washington and Vermont, manufacturers must report antimony compounds in children’s products and other chemicals of high priority to designated state departments. Antimony trioxide is a known carcinogen. Chronic exposure can cause lung damage, skin irritation and stomach problems and has been linked to reproductive problems.
In 2008, Washington state passed a remarkable disclosure law, the Children's Safe Product Act, requiring manufacturers to test and disclose information on 66 toxic chemicals in children’s products. Consumers can search the state’s online database of more than 2,500 products listed as containing antimony or antimony compounds.
Knowing what chemicals are in children’s products is important, since children’s bodies are still developing and are more susceptible to chemical exposures. They often have higher body burdens of chemicals than adults.
But assessing the actual risks from chemicals in kids’ products can be difficult, because children often use them in unexpected ways, such as chewing on clothes or putting toys in their mouths. Studies have shown that antimony can leach into food from plastic packaging, but there’s little information about children’s products, so consumers need to know what products contain potentially hazardous chemicals.
State disclosure laws are powerful because in addition to informing consumers, they can also motivate companies to remove toxic chemicals from their products or seek out better alternatives.
Other states are moving to adopt similar laws. Vermont and Maine already have similar programs for listing toxic chemicals in children’s products, and New York, Oregon and Minnesota are working on similar legislation.
These state disclosure initiatives are all the more important because federal regulation of chemicals under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act has been notoriously weak and ineffective. That has left it to the states to take action as one step toward protecting some of their most vulnerable citizens from toxic chemicals.