We learned in part one of this article that the Washington Children’s Products Database is a wealth of information about the frequency with which companies are using chemicals of highest concern to children. Part two of this article delves deeper into the WA database and illustrates the types of data available, while describing some fundamental relationships that are revealed by the data. (Note: summary toxicity information about the chemicals in the examples below was derived from California’s Safer Consumer Products Candidate Chemicals Database).
Highlights From the Washington Dataset
A given chemical will be used for multiple (and seemingly disparate) purposes. Chemicals that are added intentionally to products frequently have been chosen because they serve a particular function in that product. They may make a surface shiny or rigid, for example. What may be less known is that a given chemical can serve very different purposes depending on the application and the product. Take antimony and its compounds, for example; this is a group of toxic metals known for various adverse effects, from carcinogenicity to respiratory toxicity. While they are most frequently used in some products to enhance the color or pigment, they are often also being used as flame retardants, sometimes at very high amounts—over 500 ppm.
A given chemical will be used in multiple (and unexpected) components. Given that a chemical can serve multiple functions, it may serve as no surprise that it can be found in multiple components of a product. For example, toluene (a solvent frequently associated with paint and building materials) also appears in children’s products, often in surprising places: synthetic polymers, textiles, coatings, and pigments, among others.
A given material will be used in multiple (and seemingly exceptional) applications. Materials can also find their way into surprising uses in children’s products. For example, plastics are some of the most commonly used materials across product lines. They appear in everything from toys and games to clothing and footwear. To find plastics in the database, I searched by function for chemicals that were components of the “plastic resin or polymer process” and for chemicals that were a “plasticizer/softener.”
A given chemical will be used in multiple (and unexpected) products. Because chemicals can have so many different uses, they make their way into many different products. Take toluene, which we already established is used in pigments, coatings, textiles, and other components. Toluene was reported most frequently in toys/games, clothing, and footwear. Knowing that toluene is a solvent, I would have expected that this chemical would predominantly be found in arts & crafts supplies—I was totally wrong about that assumption.
Many chemicals of concern can appear in a given product. A given product can contain a cornucopia of toxic chemicals because each chemical may have been selected individually for its particular function or purpose within a given component of the product. What is really found in any single product or brand depends on the extent to which the manufacturer has had the opportunity to make a conscious and informed decision about the product. And not all do. For example, the database reveals that athletic footwear can contain a cocktail of chemicals of concern, even though individual brands within the industry have made great strides in eliminating toxic chemicals from their products.