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The Reason You Should Throw Away Hand-Me-Down Toys

The Reason You Should Throw Away Hand-Me-Down Toys

Toy safety regulations didn’t start until the mid-80s, so any old toys made before then may have toxic materials.

Maybe it’s a treasured Lionel train set, an old doll house or building blocks that have been handed down for generations in your family. But even if grandma insists you save them, here’s why you’re better off keeping hand-me-down toys off your kids’ hands: Regulations on toy safety, in both the U.S. and the U.K., came into effect in 1985 to 1986. Before then, there were no across-the-board safety standards for toys.

What that means, according to a study in Environmental Science and Technology, is that many manufacturers used toxic materials. Using X-ray fluorescence, U.K. researchers analyzed 200 toys, including cars, trains, construction products, figures and puzzles, building blocks, figurines and jewelry made before safety directives were implemented. What they found was astounding: high concentrations of antimony, barium, bromine, cadmium, chromium, lead and selenium. How did we survive this long?

“In eight cases, Cd (cadmium) or Pb (lead) exceeded their migration limits as stipulated by the current European Union Toy Safety Directive … with Cd released from yellow and red Lego bricks exceeding its limit by an order of magnitude,” says study researchers. These toys probably resulted in a bunch of unaccounted for cancers.

As the researchers of the study point out, “…there is no retroactive regulation on second-hand toys.” So hand-me-downs that are family treasures or inexpensive online-finds may come with quite a cost. Your best bet? When buying for children, avoid toys made before the mid 80s. 

Medically reviewed in January 2020.

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