Let me try to clarify the situation, having done some armchair research on the subject, but IANAL (I Am not a lawyer) and IANAE (I am NOT An Expert) and YMMV (Your mileage may vary). GoodGuides is a new-age-style company that wants to be doing "good" in the manner prescribed by the similarly new-agey "bcorporation". Antimony, which is an element which has toxicity and chemical purpose somewhat similar to lead, and is generally thought of as a "heavy metal," is commonly used in miniscule proportions to catalyze the chemical processes that make PET, a relatively common plastic, most well-known as the plastic used for soda and water bottles. PET is a plastic, Polyethylene terephthalate, and you might recall the recent flaps over phthalates and their biological properties. PET is commonplace, and antimony will usually be found in PET because it's commonly used to produce it. To explain what a catalyst is - it's a material added to increase the rate of a chemical reaction - and unless there's a further step to remove it, it'll be present in the final chemical product. PET is used in water bottles and also in making "fleece" used in clothing - in fact, water bottles can be "recycled" into fleece.
Now, in large quantities, or in inhaled form, antimony can be toxic and even cancer-causing. The current standard of 60 ppm is very recent, having been established in February 2009, and the legislation that set up the standard-making (US Public Law 110-314, passed in 2008) doesn't have the word "Antimony" in it, according to the search I made of the text of the law itself. Goodguide says they tested a Zhu-Zhu pet Mr. Squiggly, and got something between 50-100% over this new Federal limit. So far, I can't see that their testing methods have been certified by the CPSC, which sets the standard, and the manufacturer denies that any Federal standard has been breached. Even so, such safety standards are generally set at a level to which a 100% breach wouldn't be a point at which a product would generally be considered poisonous, but at which no-one would stick their neck out and say "go ahead, lick it, it won't hurt you."
Of course, Zhu-zhu's are toys for little kids, and sure they might lick it, chew it, pick at the fur and eat it, who knows? Personally, my kid picked up a dead fly off the windowsill and stuck it right it his mouth when he was little, so go ahead and assume that the kid will eat the marvelous toy. Now, when it comes to making fur for toys, or similarly nappy material for carpet, and so on, there are alternatives to antimony-containing PET plastic that can be used. William McDonough, famous architect, and author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, (you can search his book for references to "antimony" on amazon), suggests there are infinitely recyclable and non-toxic alternatives to antimony-containing PET, namely nylon, that should be used in favor of any more toxic substance. Goodguides, and the Cradle-to-cradle movement are likely trying at every opportunity to, in their view, improve the way the world works by pointing out where substances that have any appreciable degree of toxicity can be replaced by better substances. Since Zhu-zhu's seem to be the hot toy of the season, they have a high profile, and any accusation of toxicity can get Big Media Coverage, on top of the publicity they're already getting by controlling supply and retailing to garner the attention supplied by retail scarcity. ...so they're vulnerable to even the faintest whiff of scandal - and scandal is a big opportunity for the kind of fear-mongering that new-agey enviromentalists thrive on. Also vulnerable particularly are those who are buying at retail and selling in the secondary market at what are frankly obscene mark-ups. Those obscene mark-ups can evaporate in a matter of days if the supply and demand relationship changes, and if you look at camelcamelcamel.com, you can see a dramatic graphical representation of how the third-party sales price has been changing recently.
Speaking my own opinion, based on what I can understand, these toys could have been made using safer materials. The standards have been recently tightened, so if the goodguides testing is accurate, these toys would have been completely legal under last year's toxicity standards. We're not talking about toxicity that'll have masses of kids flooding the emergency rooms on Christmas Day. All that being said, scalping toys for tots isn't really what Christmas Is All About, and if you're making a killing selling slightly toxic toys at highly inflated prices that are the peak that the free market will bear, you're also assuming the risk that a sudden change in supply or demand can wipe away that business at any time. So Good Luck with That Business Model.
By the way, if I've gotten through to anyone who understands Cradle-to-cradle, can anyone explain why nylon is one of McDonaugh's perfect materials if caprolactum is such a nasty chemical? Is it considered perfectly OK because Only Professionals Will Handle Caprolactum? Surely a little Caprolactum ends up in the Nylon?
It's worth pointing out too that if you're worried about antimony, the first place you should look is the flame retardant on your child's mattress, assuming you don't have an organic wool/cotton mattress with no flame retardant. We do own one of the non-antimony mattresses - there aren't a lot around, or at least weren't a few years ago, and we had to do a lot of research and spend a sizable wad of cash to avoid antimony in our child's mattress.
Another common source of antimony in your child's environment is flame-retardant sleepwear. Again, you have to go out of your way to find sleepwear without antimony, and then you might just have to go even further out of your way to find sleepwear without other toxins, like formaldehyde, and yes - even other various heavy metals - which can be absorbed into your child's skin when they sweat. We've been down that rather annoying and research-intensive road as well.
It's all about understanding and assessing risks. You probably have more antimony in your child's sleeping environment - the place they spend possibly better than 50% of their lives - than you will find in one of these zhu-zhu hamsters.
That said, I'd sooner cut off my foot than buy my kids a zhu-zhu hamster. They're cute, but so are a lot of other, safer, not-made-in-China toys. 1.5 times the antimony level may not make these the worst toys out there, but when 33% of China-manufactured toys contain excessive levels of one or more of a myriad of known toxins, there's a good chance you're going to be bringing worse offenders into your home during the holidays if you choose to buy toys made in a third world country with little or no oversight by companies only concerned with making a quick buck.
If you don't like antimony in children's toys, buy American-made, buy European-made forsake the trends and the marketing that tells your kids they 'must have' this latest fad and support businesses that are trying to do better for our country, our world, and the world we will leave behind for our kids, both economically and environmentally.
Manufacturer of Zhu Zhu Pets Confirms Safety of Mr. Squiggles Toy and Offers Validation of Testing Protocol Hottest toy of the holiday season passes the industry's most stringent consumer health and safety certification standards St. Louis (December 5) -- Cepia LLC, the manufacturer of Zhu Zhu Pets, says that its Mr. Squiggles toy is "absolutely safe and has passed the most rigorous testing in the toy industry for consumer health and safety." This statement is in response to a report made earlier today by Good Guide that alleges Mr. Squiggles contains unsafe levels of antimony. "We are disputing the findings of Good Guide and we are 100% confident that Mr. Squiggles, and all other Zhu Zhu Toys, are safe and compliant with all U.S. and European standards for consumer health and safety in toys", said Russ Hornsby, CEO of Cepia LLC. "All our products are subjected to several levels of rigorous safety testing conducted by our own internal teams, as well as the world's leading independent quality assurance testing organization, and also by independent labs engaged by our retail partners," Hornsby said. "The results of every test prove that our products are in compliance with all government and industry safety standards." Test results show Mr. Squiggles, as well as all other Zhu Zhu Pets products, are well within U.S. government standards and these results have been certified by the world's leading independent testing organizations. Rigorous testing and inspection procedures are in place for all Zhu Zhu Pets products to assure that the toys are completely safe. Working in conjunction with representatives from governing toy industry and trade organizations, we have made certain that all Zhu Zhu Pets products are regularly and frequently tested through an independent testing service, Bureau Veritas Consumer Products Services, the global leader in Quality Assurance. The Zhu Zhu Pets products are tested in laboratories several times during production, and again before they ship from the factory. The testing laboratories that conduct Zhu Zhu Pets product testing are accredited by the largest national and international bodies and adhere to the strictest protocol for testing. In fact, all Zhu Zhu Pets testing exceeds the levels for products distributed in the US, by passing the EN71 test required for products distributed in Europe. "We are contacting the Good Guide people at this moment to share with them all of our Mr. Squiggles and Zhu Zhu Pet testing data so we can get to the bottom of how their report was founded," Russ Hornsby said. "We want to assure everyone already enjoying Mr. Squiggles or other Zhu Zhu Pets, and those planning to purchase Mr. Squiggles or another Zhu Zhu Pet this holiday season, that the toy is 100 percent safe and in compliance with all U.S. and European toy safety standards. I have been in the toy industry for more than 35 years, and being a father of children myself, I would never allow any substandard or unsafe product to hit the shelves. That's why we always test to not only meet but also exceed safety standards."
SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - December 7, 2009) - In a press release we issued on Saturday, December 5th, we published the results of our testing of chemical levels in toys and stated that certain toys we tested had antimony and chromium levels that exceed federal standards. Since issuing our release, we have learned that the testing methodology used in the federal standards (a soluble method) is different than the methodology we used in our testing (a surface-based method). Accordingly, while we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error.
(from csmonitor.com) When consumer-protection group GoodGuide raised questions about whether red-hot holiday gift Zhu Zhu Pets were unsafe, parents thronged the Internet to find out if the robotic hamsters were going to be recalled for what the consumer group called "dangerous" levels of tin and antimony.
However, GoodGuide has now posted a statement on its blog allowing that its testing methodology does not measure metals in the same way that American and European guidelines dictate.
The statement in part reads "while GoodGuide considers the presence of any antimony on the surface of a toy to be a concern, we want to clarify that we used a testing methodology to evaluate the toys that is different from the testing methodology incorporated into the federal standards."
Translation: The toys may not have violated national safety standards after all. The difference lies in how one counts trace amounts of metals.
Since there are no federal regulations for tin in toys, it's difficult to know what to make of GoodGuide's charge about that metal. On antimony, a substance used as a catalyst in polyester production and also sometimes as a flame retardant, US federal regulations limit the "soluble" amount of antimony in toys to 60 parts per million. The soluble standard involves the amount of antimony the product gives off when, for example, children put a toy in their mouths.
Cepia posted the safety review testing done by an international standards group on its website Monday, showing levels of soluble antimony in Zhu Zhu Pets under 2 parts per million.
By contrast, GoodGuide says it found levels of 103 parts per million of antimony on the nose of Mr. Squiggles, one of the most popular Zhu Zhu hamsters. The group also says it found 93 parts per million on Mr. Squiggles's fur, using a NITON XL3t series X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. But the XRF analysis measures total levels, not soluble levels.
While not speaking directly about GoodGuide's use of the analyzer, the director of product management at NITON manufacturer Thermo Fisher, says that the device is typically used as an initial scan to determine the presence of certain metals. It tells technicians whether more in-depth testing is necessary.
"It's used for the first test in order to find out what's in this sample to begin with. Obviously, if you don't have any antimony to begin with, you don't have to worry about whether its leachable or soluble," says David Mercuro of Thermo Fisher.
Mr. Mercuro said that the presence of a given substance in an initial scan did not have a bearing on whether the substance could be soluble.
Although GoodGuide's ranking of the popular Mr. Squiggles rates both antimony and tin content as "dangerous contents found," a disclaimer above the ratings says, "These levels are not intended to correspond to levels known to cause health effects. They are intended only to provide a relative measure of the level of the chemical in a toy product to which a child might be exposed."
In a statement released Monday afternoon, the CEO of Cepia LLC, the company that manufactures Zhu Zhu Pets, maintained that all the toy hamsters were in fact harmless.
"The claims made by GoodGuide have, unfortunately, caused great confusion with parents and regulators. I want to assure everyone who has purchased any Zhu Zhu Pets, or those planning to purchase one, that the toy is 100 percent safe," said CEO Russ Hornsby.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced Monday that it would be looking into the safety concerns of Zhu Zhu Pets, a move welcomed by Cepia.
"We fully embrace that," says company spokesman Grant Deady. "We've got a great relationship with the CPSC. They promised us they would expedite the testing process; we have a few people there onsite today to help them through it."
The CPSC did not return calls for comment.
Mr. Deady says Cepia had not been given a date by which the CPSC would conclude its testing.
"You have to put your trust into the industry and the government's guidelines - which we follow - and not necessarily trust the source of some unqualified third party resource that doesn't abide by the same guidelines as everyone else," Deady says.
GoodGuide did not return an e-mail request for comment.
Has anything more come of this study? I have a 7 year old who has muscular dystrophy - enough of her own health problems she was born with. This was what she wanted from Santa, and I got it for her, and she has Mr. Squiggles and NumNums. I heard none of this about them, or woulnd't have spent over $200 to get all the parts and things we got for her to have her own little city for them! While my child doesn't put toys in her mouth, she doesn't wash her hands as often because she's in a wheelchair and we usually don't worry about her playing wiht her own toys in her room and then going to eat afterward, being something to be worried about, since we keep her things clean! However, if this stuff could cause her more health problems because she was handling the hampster, and then say - picked up a cookie right after and ate it, or rubbed her eyes or nose afterward, that scares me. I would appreciate someone's more proffessional opinion about this. Thank you.
The level of antimony discovered in the Zhu-Zhu pets was minimal; only double the limit. X-ray fluorescence testing, which is used by independents such as Good Guide and the Ecology Center, cannot possibly determine the amount of chemicals that can *migrate* from a toy, they simply test via bouncing radiation of a surface, as I understand it, the amount of certain chemicals in an object. The media is surely to blame for the exaggeration of this whole deal. Zhu Zhu says that the amount capable of migrating is something like .3 ppm
So here's the bottom line:
1. At little over twice the amount of antimony allowed in a product, I doubt the migration is much, if any.
2. You have to assess risks from an objective standpoint. What are the chances that your dishes might have toxins, your clothes, your child's other toys, and so on? What is the best way to weed toxins from your environment? Buy from reputable companies, pay more for items not made in third world countries to maximize profit, casting safety measures aside for cheap manufacture. You'll still get no guarantees, but statistically you'd probably be better off.
Antimony, which is in fact toxic, with symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning, is found it a number of products aside from Zhu Zhu pets. It's found it PET water bottles to varying degrees depending on how long the water has been in the bottle and what temperature it is kept at. Antimony is used as a flame retardant. Unless you make a concerted effort to buy (INSANELY expensive) furniture and mattresses that have no flame resistant chemical compounds, you are guaranteed exposure to antimony from all upholstered surfaces in your home. If your child wears flame-resistant pajamas, they too have been treated with antimony which can be absorbed into your child's skin when she sweats.
Is Mr. Squiggles the biggest antimony exposure risk in your life? Without more information, I couldn't possibly know, but I would guess that he is not.
Just google "good guide error". Good Guide (the consumer group) apologized afterwards for using the wrong tests. Zhu Zhu pets passed all of the health tests in the US and the US gave it a clean bill of health.
The fact that there is even the slightest bit of concern about ANY kind of toxic chemicals in a child's toy is crazy. I don't blame consumers for being extremely cautious and weary of products manufactured in China right now. After all of the bad press and recalls about lead in paint, toxic chemicals in plastic toys, etc...As a parent, I don't care how small the levels of antimony are or whatever other toxic chemicals they are using to make products imported to the USA, it is all wrong. I would like to know the people working at these companies let their kids play with these toys knowing what they know about what these products are really made out of. I can't believe these coorporations are justifying using "minimal amounts" of toxic, harmful chemicals in children's toys. I hope consumers have had enough, we need to demand more stringent laws and regulations from imported products. I can't believe I have to worry about every single object my kids come in contact with nowdays; from their lunch box to the toys they play with! This is just wrong!!!!