Testing Toys for the Holidays!

It is the start of the holiday shopping season, and at GoodGuide that means…time to research the health, safety, and environmental performance of the hottest toys of the year!

While most people are out trying to decide which toys would be the most fun for their kids, we have been hard at work taking toys apart and testing them for lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, antimony, chlorine, bromine, and other chemicals of concern.

We started this project by first partnering with the HealthyToys project run by the Ecology Center in Michigan. By combining HealthyToys.org data with GoodGuide’s ratings of the environmental and social performance of the leading toy brands, we will be releasing ratings on over 700 new toys and 40 toy brands on December 4th.

We also decided to buy and test the “hot” toys of the year. These are the best selling toys from Toys R Us, Amazon, Target, and Walmart.

To test these top selling toys, we had to wait until the “hot” toy lists (like Toys R Us’s “Fabulous 15” list) were released. We then purchased 30 of the top-selling toys (and in most cases 3 of each toy) including very hard to find Zhu Zhu pets, Bakugans, Transformers, Princess and the Frog dolls, and more! We also purchased top-selling “mouthable” toys that toddlers and infants often put in their mouths (such as teethers and rings.)

We then hired a technician to work with the GoodGuide ratings team to test these toys with an X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer.

To explain it simply, the XRF gun shoots x-rays at the toy. When hit by the x-rays, the material (whether it is plastic, wood, metal, paint, etc.) emits light (fluoresces). The wavelength of the emitted light provides a “fingerprint” of the chemicals in the material. We employed a similar methodology to our partners at HealthyStuff.org. We scanned different parts of each toy, and tested each toy three times. The XRF gun gave us readings on the presence of chemicals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, tin, antimony, chlorine, and bromine.

Without giving away too much, let me just say there were definitely some surprising results in the testing.

We will be releasing the results on Friday Dec. 4th. So sign up for the GoodGuide email alerts, follow us on Twitter or check back next Friday to receive the full story on the Hottest Toys of the year.

About Dara O'Rourke

Associate Professor at UC Berkeley and Co-Founder of GoodGuide.
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15 Responses to Testing Toys for the Holidays!

  1. This is a great way to prevent children from being expose to chemicals and toxins. And I am gonna wait for the result of this test before buying gifts for holidays. Thanks for the infor and hope to see the result soon.

  2. Mitch the gold buyer says:

    This looks very much like the handheld that I bought to start a testing service company. The Quickshot XRF system; is that the same one? I bought the Quickshot unit for the price compared to the other units I looked at and the performance of the Quickshot XRF has been good.

  3. Aishah says:

    I think that this article should be taken a little further. This writer could have explained the causes in depth of purchasing these toys. I feel that most adults are unaware of this very important issue. I am a 5th grade student in Connecticut, I am doing an unseen chemical project. I would like to use this article for my research component.


  4. Jennifer says:

    An article about your rating of Zhu Zhu hamsters says, "If ingested in high enough levels [it] can lead to cancer, reproductive health, and other human health hazards.."
    What constitutes "high enough levels"? I know it has to do with touching the toys and then putting the hands in mouth , or placing the toy directly in your mouth, but can the time be quantified?

  5. Mary says:

    Did they test the computers they use to see how they rated in health risks? They are made out of the same plastic the toys are. Did they test the other gadgets they used to test the toys. Same thing. They are exposing themselves to the same things our children are exposing themselves to, except their things are not toys. Good grief……this article seems very silly to me, and play on people’s fears. We can make anything that we put our hands on today seem toxic if we really research it. Analyze the dirt we walk on every day and you could find something toxic. Analyze anything we touch and you can do the same thing.
    What about the headphones the girl has in her ears in the picture. Aren’t they made out of plastic? Hmmmmmm……

  6. Lab Tech says:

    I would of expected YOU to contact the company in regards to your findings, rather than just blabbing about it all over. You should of worked with the company to verify your results. Sure hope all your requipment has been serviced per the manufacturers recommendations and that the tests where done in some ‘approved’ type way. The pictures I see on your website certainly don’t look like a professional lab.

  7. Blue Lab says:

    I agree with Lab Tech. You should have contacted the company first. They could provide you with internationally accepted lab results for every shipment.
    Instead, you, as a fledgling new company, possibly in the interest of generating yourself big press, have now put a small toy company’s families livelihoods in jeopardy.
    That "toy" XRF you are using is subject to contamination and off-calibration. Do you have a recent calibration certificate for it?
    There is also no way to tell if the product was contaminated before testing except by your word. Who is to say you or someone working for you were not swayed by the big boys, other competitors offering you money? Take no offense, but frankly it’s a concern… we don’t know you. How do we know somehow between the package and the XRF test, someone didn’t spray a little flame retardant with antimony on the fur?

    Did you communicate with the company: ( As CPSC would do! )
    Did you communicate what lot number the product came from to the company in order to help them pinpoint the problem if it exists by comparing to others in the same lot with more lab tests?
    Did you communicate what part of the toy supposedly had higher levels of antimony?
    Did the same samples go to a real lab to verify your XRF numbers?
    Do you have certificates of proof?
    Do the same 3 samples still exist intact and supposedly uncontaminated so they can be tested independently in a lab?

    It seems that if you really cared about safety and small toy makers in America, these would be among the first steps taken!

    This toy company already does exceptionally exhaustive internationally accepted lab testing, right off the assembly line to meet all regulations… then, their customer (TRU, Walmart, Target, etc.) ALSO RE-TESTS right off the assembly line in REAL certified international labs, such as Bureau Veritas, with super clean environments…not on your lunch table, sir.

    I can tell you that the owner has raised three little girls and is incredibly concerned about the slightest safety issue. He goes to great lengths and has pulled other toy shipments in the past for the slightest thing. Putting toys out there for children is a great and heavy responsibility that he shoulders with great care.
    The real tests are incredibly expensive but always done exhaustively before shipping.

    I can’t believe CNN picked up on this mickey mouse opinion and aired it. They too are doing American toymakers and customers a disservice. Apologies and Retractions should be in order…

    Thanks for the honesty and courage to actually post this on your site.

  8. Liz says:

    Good Guide is not a NEW company. I have been using their website for a couple of years. They just now have received a lot of publicity. Many toy makers need to be exposed.

  9. dave says:

    Handheld XRF testers do not measure PPM concentrations; they only measure per unit area. It is extremely irresponsible journalism to say that these values are PPM and can be compared to federal limits. The XRF units can only be used to say if a material is probably present; they often have false positives.

    Just horrible reporting, but I guess it got you some press.

  10. Andy says:

    If Good Guide is not a NEW company – why does their logo show Good Guide Beta ? And why do you test using methods that are not used by governments ? From your picture, your testing is in non-sterile conditions – easy for contamination to occur.

    Surely you should not publish such grand claims if you are in Beta ? Are your testing facilities in Beta too ?

  11. deadpuppy says:

    LOL… come on – please don’t say this is true. Goodgudie really launched a attack on the hottest toy of the year?
    Look at the picture above of these retard’s so called "TEST LABS" they’re testing crap in a open room on a non-clean desktop, dude isn’t even wearing gloves to prevent body oils from touching surface of test area? hell look at the "fuzzy" on the foam mat where items are placed for testing.

    This is so funny, i can just see them now – bunch of self appointed tards thought you could make millions with a little x-ray gun you bought at a pawn shop.

    The standards is to cut the toy up and melt it in acid then measure the contents, buy goodguide tested a nose which happens to be a "control button".

    Goodgudie base thier tested items rating on labor relations between workers and management, input to global warming, workplace diversity and philanthropy (giving)? So based on goodguide’sgrading rate a Unionized gay black female with a shaved head that never eats or goes to the bathroom should get a 10 rating every time.

    Get ready for it people these are the kind of morons that voted for the obama-nation of America.

    This is so funny reading your web-site, I smell a lawyer knocking on your door.

  12. OandO says:

    GoodGuide is a for profit (you call it ‘for benefit’) company with good intentions (?) but no way for us to know just how you plan to make a living doing this, leading to suspicions that you will take money from companies of the ‘good’ products you rate highly. I am not sure this is inherently bad, but you should make it clear. Consumer Reports, a true not for profit, reviews products without a cloud of suspicion. Too bad they aren’t doing more of this green stuff. Also, even after you retracted your statement about Mr. Sqiggles, tonight’s news on TV spent quite a bit of time on this without a mention of your retraction, doing great harm to the company.

  13. JuvenileProdMfr says:

    Shame on you GoodGuide! This is a clear example of how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You may have tarnished the reputation of this toy manufacturer. This seems like a publicity stunt to generate press about your for-profit company. You know the media and the general public feed on this type of garbage, especially during the Christmas season.

    What people fail to understand is that a child would have to consume many, many of these toys to get any of the negative effects of heavy metals in their system. Leave the safety testing to the experts.

  14. GovtChemist says:

    The first thoughts that come to mind are "Good Grief," followed by you have to be kidding me. Blue Lab has it right. Where are your QA/QC results, for that matter, what were your QA/QC protocols. XRF is at, at best, a semi quantitative method. If testing were that easy, the US Government wouldn’t need highly trained and educated chemists (conflict of interest note, I’m trying to save my job, just kidding). This is what I refer to as junk science, and that does more harm than good, and makes my job all that harder when I do find a problem. Any credibility you might have had just went down the toilet. Next time, follow proper analytical protocols.

  15. yourlosers says:

    I didn’t see any retractions or apologies after the recent toy debacle either, funny it all just disappeared from your site like it didn’t happen. Are you kidding me. This is the problem with all you green do-gooders you don’t think you just act (like idiots mostly). that is why you have no credibility with the public anymore. I hope the toy company sues your butts off.

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