The Hidden Danger of Vintage Toys

NEHA News Release


Hazardous Metals in Vintage Plastic Toys - Journal of Environmental Health
Release Date: 
January 8, 2015

DENVER--- A resurgence of interest in vintage toys from the 1970’s and 80’s from parents who want to share their favorite childhood toys with their children may contain hidden dangers that bring more than nostalgia. A study recently published in the January/February 2015 issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, Hazardous Metals in Vintage Plastic Toys Measured by a Handheld X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer, examined how prevalent lead and other heavy metals are in vintage toys. The results should have parents and consumers taking notice. 

Authors Gillian Zaharias Miller, PhD of the Ecology Center and Zoe E. Harris of St. Ambrose University explain that one of the main purposes for this study was that heavy metals were completely unregulated in toys and other goods until recently. Prior to 2009, when the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) went into effect, the U.S. had no laws restricting heavy metals in consumer products, including toys.

The developing brains and bodies of infants and young children are especially vulnerable to toxic exposure. Even very low blood levels of lead in a child’s body are linked to reduced intelligence. One concern with old toys is the degradation of the materials over time, releasing embedded metals or metal compounds and exposing children to these toxic materials. 

The study used a handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to detect heavy metals in a variety of vinyl and non-vinyl toys manufactured in the 1970’s and 80’s, including Barbie dolls, Fisher Price Little People figurines, and My Little Pony dolls and accessories. These results were compared to vinyl toys manufactured between 2010 and 2013, after the passing of CPSIA, including newer Barbie dolls, animal figurines, and rubber ducks. 

Of non-vinyl vintage toys tested, 66% contained detectable levels of heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, barium, and lead and 69% of vinyl toys tested contained heavy metals. Of the toys manufactured after the implementation of CPSIA, about one third showed traces of barium, with no other heavy metals detected. The complete article can be found at

In addition to parents giving vintage toys to their children, many older toys that may be contaminated are frequently found in daycares, church nurseries, and waiting rooms.

Hidden hazards such as these are one reason why the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) partnered to train professionals in identifying potentially harmful environments. Professionals trained as Healthy Homes Specialists (HHS) understand the connection between health and housing, and take a holistic approach to identifying and resolving problems that threaten the health and well-being of residents. 

About the National Environmental Health Association

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