These Nipples are Dangerous – No kidding: Most infant toys contain traces of toxic metals

Posted on Aug 1, 2008 in Heavy Metals

When a baby cries, a mother tries to stop him with a feeding bottle. If the baby keeps crying, she puts a pacifier in the baby’s mouth. The baby calms down.

A little old, the child is introduced to the teether. Apart from engaging the baby, the teether alleviates the pain. But the next time your baby cries, think again before putting any such infant toy in its mouth. Pacifiers, teethers and nipples may contain toxic metals that are hazardous for your little one.

The Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS), Ahmedabad, tested a range of pacifiers, teethers and nipples for the presence of migrated heavy metals (lead, cadmium and chromium), considering their high toxicity. The findings are so alarming that CERS published the report without testing larger sample sizes.

Scientists and experts are of the opinion that the presence of metals like lead, cadmium and chromium, even in the smallest amount, is hazardous to health. Even the faintest trace of these metals in pacifiers, teethers and nipples, meant for sucking and biting, can pose a health risk to infants.

The lead content in toys has become a global issue. In India, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has framed standards for the maximum amount of migrated lead, cadmium and chromium in children’s toys. But there are no separate standards for infant toys like pacifiers, nipples and teethers.

Infant toys cannot be clubbed with children’s toys. These toys are meant for sucking and biting over a period of time, owing to which the toxic elements easily leak out with the saliva and get ingested into the body. Besides, the BIS standards are not mandatory for toy manufacturers.

A total of eight samples of pacifiers, teethers and nipples were tested for migrated elemental lead (Pb), calcium (Cd) and chromium (Cr). The results revealed that none of the toy samples was free from lead. The migrated lead content varied from 2.7 to 9.6 ppm (parts per million). Although this figure complies with the standards set by the BIS, the presence of lead is not acceptable, particularly in infant toys.

Nuby Natural Flex Pacifier contained 5.5 ppm of lead and Disney Baby Soother and Holder Set had 5.6 ppm of lead. Out of the three teethers tested, Mom’s and Me water-filled teether had the highest lead content (9.6 ppm), while Fisher Price Penguin water-filled teether had the lowest amount of lead (5.4 ppm). The Yash Yellow rubber nipple had the highest lead content (4.8 ppm) and Piyu silicon rubber nipple had the lowest (2.7 ppm). This is dangerous because the chewing and swallowing of toys by infants make them more vulnerable to toxic lead.

Cadmium, a heavy metal used as stabilisers in plastic and paints, was found in all the samples tested. The samples contained cadmium in a range of 0.1 to 0.6 ppm. In the pacifiers tested, the Nuby brand had more cadmium (0.6 ppm) than Disney (0.1 ppm). Mom’s and Me had more cadmium (0.3ppm) than Lucky and Fisher Price. Both these brands had 0.2 ppm of cadmium. Yash Yellow had the lowest amount of cadmium (0.1 ppm) while Alfa silicon rubber nipple had the maximum (0.4 ppm).

Cadmium is a nephrotoxin which can damage the kidneys. Ingestion of cadmium may cause abdominal pain, nausea and even death. Even a small quantity of cadmium may pose a great danger to an infant’s body.

Traces of chromium were found in all the samples tested. The amount of migrated chromium varied from 0.4 to 5.0 ppm. The Nuby Natural Flex Pacifier had a chromium content of 2.8 ppm. Out of the three teethers tested Mom’s and Me water-filled teether contained the highest amount of chromium (5.0 ppm). Alfa silicon rubber nipple contained 4.4 ppm of chromium while Yash Yellow rubber nipple contained the least (1.0 ppm).

Like lead and cadmium, chromium is also considered toxic. Highly toxic Cr (VI) may cause irritation and asthma attacks. Young people may be more susceptible to toxic effects of chromium than adults.

After the test results, paediatricians were consulted to know about the medical basis of providing pacifiers, teethers to infants, their disadvantages and alternatives. Dr Saurin Parekh, consultant and visiting paediatrician at SAL, Sterling and Jeevraj Mehta Hospital in Ahmedabad, says that these toys are major sources of bacterial and fungal infections, beside chemicals. As an alternative, he suggests using a clean, unpainted but smooth wooden pacifier. You can also give your baby a big piece of carrot, cucumber and radish after removing their upper surface with clean water.

Dr Vivek Upal, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist at Surveen Children’s Hospital, suggests that bottles not be used for feeding as both the nipple and bottle get contaminated and are made of plastic containing hazardous elements. He says that thumb sucking is a safer option than teethers, nipples and pacifiers and suggests keeping the infant’s surrounding clean and hygienic.

CERS recommends that the BIS revise the standard for safety requirements for toys, particularly the limits for toxic metals like lead, cadmium and chromium. A separate category for infant toys like teethers, pacifiers and nipples should also be made. The revised standard as well as other standards should be made mandatory for toy manufacturers and importers. Commenting on the test results, Mattel Inc. said it does not use lead or cadmium compound as stabilisers for plastics or PVC. The minute amount of lead detected may have resulted from exposure to dust, equipment or even water. The mere detection of lead at these levels, which are below the regulatory standards, doesn’t equate to a health risk.

CERS stresses that the test samples were completely sealed, having no room for dust. The laboratory uses good quality triple distilled water, which has almost zero lead content. Hence the lead content measured in the test sample of Fisher Price Penguin water teether was from the sample only.