A lot of parents have a box in storage in the attic or basement, or possibly still stashed away somewhere in Grandma and Grandpa’s house, that contains some of their favorite vintage childhood treasures. A fleet of Fisher Price Little People, a crowd of Barbies, an entire stable filled with My Little Ponies–waiting patiently inside an aging cardboard box to be passed down to the next generation. Or, then again, maybe not.
If you’ve been saving away your old childhood toys to pass them on to your kids, you may want to switch gears and fire up an Ebay account instead. A recent study of toys made in the 1970s and 1980s found that the primary accessory that came along with all those ponies and Barbie dolls wasn’t a cute purse or pair of shoes, but a horrifyingly high level of contamination with dangerous metals. (Did Mattel ever make a Heavy Metal Barbie? I’m disappointed on the missed opportunity for irony there.)
Levels of lead, cadmium, and arsenic (not just for cheap wines anymore, apparently!) were far in excess of what current safety regulations allow, and even farther in excess of what you’d want in a toy that your three-year-old might try chewing on. According to the results reported by the Independent:
One in four toys contained more than 10 times current safety limits for lead; a third of non-vinyl toys violated standards for both lead and cadmium; and a fifth contained arsenic.
Lead exposure, of course, can damage developing nervous systems (it’s not that great for developed ones, either); cadmium is a hazard to the respiratory system and kidneys; and arsenic is, well, arsenic. These are all pretty bad things to hand over to your kids to play with, even if you do have a mint condition Baby North Star that you’ve been hanging onto for the kiddos’ sake.
“But we all played with this stuff, and we turned out okay!” For one thing, maybe we all would have turned out even more okay if we hadn’t been arranging the furniture in Barbie’s Cadmium Dream House as children. Plus, precisely because of their age, older toys are also likely to be invisibly decaying, much like those of us who once played with them, and thus releasing particles of these dangerous metals into a child’s playroom.
For parents who like to shop at secondhand stores, or who (like me) have had a collection of old-school My Little Ponies (that managed to survive the 80s without a poorly-planned haircut or a Sharpie tattoo) tucked away in the hopes of giving them to the kids, this news is disappointing. Good night, Dr. Barbie and Forget-Me-Not Pony, and flights of ethically-produced lead-free plastic angels sing thee to thy rest.
(Image: Matt Cardy / Getty)