Are Zhu Zhu Pets and Other Popular Toys Dangerously Toxic?

by Xin Lu on 8 December 2009 10 comments
Photo: Zhu Zhu Pet

The hottest toy of this holiday season is a little electronic hamster named the Zhu Zhu Pet. The $9.99 toy is this season's Tickle Me Elmo and parents are lining up early to snatch one for their kids. Millions of these cute little toys have been sold, but a consumer products website called Good Guide claims that these toys contain some toxic chemicals. Is this a good reason to take these toys to the dumpster?

GoodGuide is a website that scores over 70,000 consumer products for their impact on health, the environment, and the society. In a recent report about popular holiday toys, the website reported that Zhu Zhu Pets has high levels of antimony and tin. However, the website does have a disclaimer that says these levels of chemicals "are not intended to correspond to levels known to cause health effects." In the case of the toxic metal antimony, it has to be ingested or absorbed to cause harm. GoodGuide found 93 parts per million in the fur of the Zhu Zhu Pet, and 106 parts per million on the nose of the Zhu Zhu Pet. These levels are above the federal limit of 60 parts per million, but the way Good Guide did the test is different from the federal safety tests. The federal testing measures soluble amounts of antimony, and the Zhu Zhu Pet has less than 2 parts per million of soluble antimony according to a safety review test. This means that a child has to eat quite a few of these hamsters to become poisoned by the antimony within. As a response, the manufacturer of Zhu Zhu Pets issued a press release that claims that all Zhu Zhu toys "are safe and compliant with all U.S. and European standards for consumer health and safety in toys."

Other popular toys that were tested by Good Guide included Lego Star Wars, ChixOS, and Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Learning Farm. Lego Star Wars and ChixOS scored a clean bill of health, but the Learning Farm's tests revealed high levels of Chromium. The website also contains ratings for many products that you and I already have in our homes. It is definitely a good resource for consumers to research how green and healthy consumer products are, but I don't think it is necessary to throw away everything that has a potentially dangerous chemical because some of these chemicals are only dangerous if ingested in significant quantities. There are harmful chemicals in many everyday products, and most people have the common sense not to drink insect repellent or Windex.

Finally, I think it is always good practice to do research on the products you buy, but we also need to exercise some common sense in deciding what is truly dangerous. Otherwise we would fear everything out there.

What do you think? Have you thrown away your Zhu Zhu Pet?

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Guest's picture

Thanks for bring this to my attention!

This Christmas, my daughter is getting 2 of those. I had no idea that in this day and age, that any such poisons would be in modern toys.

I'm hoping since she has a real hamster, that this will be something that she shelves and forgets about. Then I can wrap it up in plastic and store it in the basement (just in case she asks for it later)...

Hurray, for Lego's both of my kids enjoy those (especially the theme ones like Star Wars).

I'll have to check out the site to see what they say about Mind Flex...

Guest's picture
Reduce Chemical Overload

My daughter is getting a zhu zhu pet for Christmas, but I may have reconsidered had I known. Not that she will ingest the animal, but why do corporations continue to decide to put known toxic materials in their products? They may say it helps cut costs, but how about the health of the employees who work where the zhu zhu pets are made who are probably being overexposed to the toxins?

Guest's picture
Colin

Antimony is used in cloths (antimony trioxide) to retard fire. So this includes fur on toys and actual clothing items for children.

Guest's picture
Stacey Marcos

I'm no scientist, but isn't antimony the payments ants make to each other when the get divorced?

Guest's picture

If anyone feels the need to unburden themselves of a toxic Zhu Zhu pet or 2, I'll gladly take them off your hands. My daughter is begging for one and I can't find any at a reasonable price. (And no, Amazon's current price of $36 for a $10 toy is not "reasonable".)

Guest's picture
sylrayj

Most kids aren't likely to gnaw away on their Zhu Zhu Pet. Some kids, though, are more likely to do so, and some people may worry about pets who tend to be rough with found toys.

I heard about the metal concentrations of the toys on special needs blogs, and there are a number of conditions where interested children may be likely to chew on non-food items. A neurotypical child may be fairly safe with the cuddly things, whereas their autism-spectrum neighbour may not be. My rabbit chews everything she can reach, and my little one might decide that the rabbit might want to play with the toy hamster...

It's good to know both reports, to best understand the risks and to be able to consider the situation. If we're gifted with a Zhu Zhu pet, I'll make sure it never is introduced to the bunny, and I'll keep the reports in mind when we consider the toy's life cycle.

Guest's picture
Guest

The safety review test from Bureau Veritas not only had no complaints about safety, it also does NOT say anything about there being 2ppm of antimony.

It says the white fur has found to have 2ppm lead (normal clean soil has 14 to 40 ppm). It also measured between 2ppm and 9ppm of barium (15 to 3500ppm is normal for soil). All the other heavy metals were listed as LESS THAN 2ppm- meaning all this incredibly sensitive equipment couldn't pick up enough of a trace to get a decent reading.

One might have to muddle through some unfamiliar terminology, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to actually read a scientific report before citing it as a source.

Guest's picture
Christie

If we listen to every alarmist warning out there, we will all want to be trapped in a biodome with piped-in HEPA filtered air, grow our own food in said biodome, and manufacture whatever else we needed with what we have on hand, never to mix with the outside world again.

Are there chemicals in things? Yes. Do we need to panic? Probably not. Looking at the research that I've found for these toys, which, by the way, I've never seen and don't plan to buy, you would have to EAT the whole toy, and sometimes several of these toys to make it hazardous. It is probably more hazardous to be near the path of a spritz of Windex. Scaring people into choices is no more responsible than not giving them the tools they need to make an informed decision.

Guest's picture
Colin

Christie, the majority of people would just vacuum up a broken 4-foot fluorescent bulb that smashed on the floor. It is, actually, considered a hazmat situation. Using a normal vacuum would result in your vacuum contaminated with mercury and would blow it into the air whenever you used it. But it's just a light bulb, right?

Information is good if you are capable of using the information. Blindly saying people can use the information is dangerous. Blindly saying people will use the information is presumptuous.

In fact, the linked report has been redacted and linked to a release about why. Seems responsible to me.