Old Toys Might Contain Toxic Chemicals, Reveals First Study of its Kind

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  • Out of a sample of 200 trinkets found in homes, nurseries, schools and charity shops, more than 10% contained high levels of hazardous elements
  • These chemicals are toxic at low levels; such toys would not be approved today
  • Lead poisoning is linked to seizures and can even be life-threatening
  • Children are thought to be more at risk due to their developing organs
There is no regulation regarding the recycling or re-sale of old toys 

Old plastic toys, including lego, dinosaur figurines and dolls, can contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals, according to the first study of its kind.

Out of a sample of 200 trinkets found in homes, nurseries, schools and charity shops, more than 10 per cent contained high levels of hazardous elements that can be toxic at low amounts and would not be approved for sale today, a study found.


Children are thought to be more at risk of poisoning from hazardous elements as their organs are still developing and they are more likely to put non-edible objects in their mouths. 

Lead author Dr Andrew Turner from the University of Plymouth, said: 'Second-hand toys are an attractive option to families because they can be inherited directly from friends or relatives or obtained cheaply and readily from charity stores, flea markets and the internet.


'The attractive cost, convenience and recyclability of previously used toys has the potential to create a legacy of chemical contamination for younger children.' 

Since 1995 toys must comply with the Toy Safety Directive, which includes safe hazardous element levels, to be sold in the EU. There is no regulation regarding the recycling or re-sale of old toys.

How the research was carried out 

The researchers analysed toys found across the south-west of England.

Such toys were made of plastic and were small enough to fit in young children's mouths; or were made up of removal parts. 

The researchers used specialist X-ray fluorescence scans to detect levels of hazardous elements.

'Consumers should be more aware of the risks with old plastic toys'

Results further reveal 26 of the toys analysed contained high concentrations of hazardous elements if they are exposed over an extended period of time.

Several of the toys even released bromine, cadmium and lead at levels that exceed those set by the European Council's Toy Safety Directive.

Dr Turner said: 'This is the first systematic investigation of hazardous elements in second-hand plastic toys in the UK.

'Second-hand toys are an attractive option to families because they can be inherited directly from friends or relatives or obtained cheaply and readily from charity stores, flea markets and the internet.


'But while the Toy Safety Directive applies to new products there is no regulation covering the recycling or re-sale of older toys.


'Consumers should be made more aware of the potential risks associated with small, mouthable old plastic toys or components.

'Without that, the attractive cost, convenience and recyclability of previously used toys has the potential to create a legacy of chemical contamination for younger children.'

The findings were published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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