I have a three-year-old son who adores matchbox cars. He has carried them around with him all day, nearly every day, for almost a year. His particular favorite is a little Lightning McQueen car that came in a package of two. It was all he wanted for his birthday. This toy has made appearances sitting next to him in his high chair during meals and used to accompany him to bed. If this boy had no other toys, he would be happy with his cars.
On April 17, I was invited to speak at an event at the Maine Discovery Museum to test the contents of children’s toys for dangerous chemicals using an X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer and call attention to the need for legislation to prevent dangerous chemicals from getting into children’s products. I was there to speak as a mother who is concerned about toxins like BPA and phthalates in children’s products.
Out of curiosity, I decided to test that favorite toy, which, of course, had made the trip to the museum with us. I was not expecting there to be any chemicals that I should be concerned about. After all, these cars are made by Mattel, the same company that has been making Hot Wheels for decades. They must be safe, right?
To be honest, when the conductor of the test told me, “It looks like the mercury content is pretty high,” I thought she was joking. I looked at the results; we tested another car, then tested the first car again. All three tests revealed the same awful truth: My son’s most treasured possessions contain mercury at a level that is 30 times higher than what is considered to be a high level of mercury.
As the test results began to sink in, I felt overwhelmed by shock, guilt and outrage. As parents, our most sacred responsibility is to protect our children from harm. My son had been carrying around a red chunk of poison with little wheels on it, and I had put it in his hands. I had put my trust and the health of my child in the hands of a company whose manufacturing standards exposed him to dangerous levels of a well-known toxin.
I immediately contacted Mattel, who (to its credit) agreed to refund our purchase and conduct testing on the cars.
There is very little debate surrounding the dangers of mercury exposure. We have known for at least half a century that mercury causes damage to the nervous system, hampers cognitive ability and can cause severe developmental delays in young children. We expect that products made for our children do not contain any mercury and that the companies that manufacture those products take their obligation to protect our children at least seriously enough to not use chemicals that we know cause harm.
We all know that this is not the first time dangerous chemicals have been found in toys. Following an incident in 2007, Mattel announced that it would be implementing new testing procedures to catch any future contaminated toys before they made their way to a child’s hands. This assurance was reinforced by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This law states that all children’s products must undergo third-party testing to ensure that they comply with federal safety standards.
At the state level, we have gone further than the federal government with the Kid Safe Product Act of 2008. This law established Maine as one of the leaders on eliminating toxic chemicals from products intended for children. Under this law, Maine has identified 49 chemicals of concern. The original intent of this identification process was to require manufacturers to disclose which products contain toxic chemicals. As it stands now, the state of Maine is not required to move forward on this action plan without further direction from the Legislature and our governor.
LD 1181 would set this plan in motion and provide a valuable tool for parents such as myself who are horrified at the prospect of purchasing toxic toys for our kids.
As parents and as concerned citizens of our state, we must to do everything in our power to stop this from ever happening again. I am asking everyone who is concerned about the safety of our children to reach out to your legislators. Ask them to protect our children; ask them to support LD 1181.
Morgan Pottle Urquhart grew up in Washington County. She now lives in Bangor with her husband and son, working as a stay-at-home mom and job seeker.