A Kerfuffle About Mr. Squiggles

No, it’s not the title of an unpublished Dr. Seuss book. According to the Good Guide, the hottest toy of the holiday shopping season, the Zhu Zhu, may have illegal levels of antimony, a chemical linked to headaches, nausea, wheezing, and damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart.

But the company that makes the toy claims its tests show no antimony in the fuzzy, creepy toy/possible Gabor sister. What should parents believe?

The complex truth is that both tests can be truthful. The Good Guide conducted a test using an X-ray device that measures metals in almost any object. The device accurately tells us how much total lead and other metals, including antimony, are in various products.

But the federal safety limit for antimony is based on a different kind of test. This test does not measure the total amount of the chemical, but how much of the chemical might leach out of the toy. The company did this test, and they say it showed that less than 2 parts per million (ppm) of antimony comes off of the product (the limit is 60 ppm).

It’s not possible to say from the Good Guide testing if the hamster toy violates the federal standard. But many parents may not want a toy that contains antimony, even if the company and regulators say the toy is not a safety violation. We’re glad that the Good Guide is giving parents information that they can use to make an informed decision. Our colleagues at also publicize levels of chemicals found in toys that may not always violate federal rules, because this information can help parents make buying decisions based on accurate testing information that toy makers don’t disclose.

The Good Guide also issued a clarification today, correcting their statement that the toy violates the federal law.

Our work, the work of, and the work of the Good Guide would be less essential if industry were simply required to demonstrate, before they put products on the market, that the chemicals found in the products are safe. Since the U.S. government’s chemical policy still ignores the simple adage, “first, do no harm,” we often cannot know the impact of the chemicals found in many everyday products. In fact, a May 2009 government evaluation of antimony (the chemical the Good Guide found in the hamster toy) found no tests for reproductive effects, genetic damage, or skin and eye irritation; only one cancer test and few acute toxicity tests were found. That’s why we need chemical policy reform, putting the burden on industry to demonstrate that chemicals are safe before putting them in the toys our kids play with.

To screen children’s products for lead and other toxic hazards, CEH uses the same X-ray device that Good Guide used. When our X-ray testing finds a product with high levels of lead, we confirm the result by sending the product to an independent lab that is certified by the government to conduct testing required under federal law. By exposing high levels of lead in children’s products, we have ended lead threats to kids from millions of products, including children’s medicines and diaper rash creams, vinyl lunch boxes, children’s jewelry, baby bibs, imported candies, and many other products.

CEH worked hard for the new federal rules requiring companies to prove that their products are free of toxic chemicals before bringing them to market. The kerfuffle over Mr Squiggles is a reminder of why pre-market testing is so important. Generation Green will keep you updated about our efforts as we continue to monitor how well companies are complying with the new law.

See CBS News and NBC News with CEH interviews about this story.