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Question from Miriam

My quick question is: have you ever investigated Matchbox cars or Hot Wheels?
My longer question, which I know may have to wait, is: How do I research this? says they’re safe as of the last 20-30 years (from lead) but I found an article from 2015 that says they were found to contain ‘toxic’ chemicals – but can’t find more than this:
My son desperately wants some and I’m not sure how to proceed.


Lisa’s Answer


My son was obsessed with Matchbox and Hot Wheels when he was little so I get it.  He is now starting freshman year of college…it goes fast:). At the time my main concern was lead, I worked very long hours and didn’t have the time to do as deep dives as I do now.  A big factor is if he will put them in his mouth.  I assume he is past that age, but if not I would hold off.
The study sited in the article below is no longer up so I can’t see the testing methodology.  Most of the studies for heavy metals in toys are subjected to solutions to mimic saliva and digestions because the assumption is they will be mouthed or possibly digested by a very small child.  So, if a metal is leached under these conditions it does not necessarily mean that there is exposure when played with as intended.
The good news is that the U.S. regulation of toys is getting better, unlike in other segments.  All toys made in and imported to be sold in the U.S. must meet the ASTM standard F963 which tests for 8 metals including arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, cadmium, barium, selenium, and antimony.  The regulations were strengthened in 2016 and 2017.
They do not test for cobalt at the federal level, which is what was identified in the attached study.  Oregon and Washington State have stricter requirements for children’s toys and require companies to report on the presence of a longer list of chemicals of concern.  Cobalt is one of them.  You can use this cool database to look up companies to see the presence of chemicals of concern in their products.  I looked up Mattel which makes both Hot Wheels and Matchbox and it does, indeed, show that cobalt is present.  It does not tell you anything about exposure or limits, simply that it is used in the product.
Interestingly, cobalt is the most reported material in this database.  It is widely used in children’s clothing but also present in toys and jewelry.  It is a colorant often, but not always, used for blue coloring.  The health effects of the type of cobalt exposure a child gets from consumer products is not studied.  Most of the studied effects are from industrial settings.  It is a possible allergen and there are dermatological studies.  You can read more here.
I would still choose a major manufacturer like Mattel over a cheaper version.  Heavy metal contamination from use of recycled materials can be greater in lower cost products.
I think this is a personal choice.  My choice would be to allow it if he is old enough to not put them in his mouth.  As an extra precaution he could wash his hands after playing with them.  I would focus more on eliminating cobalt exposure from clothing by buying organic cotton and ideally GOTS certified clothing.


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