Is Teddy a pollution magnet?

From Baltimore, at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry

Plush toys can accumulate potentially toxic air pollutants, a new study finds.

The toys’ stuffing is virtually identical to absorbents used to collect volatile chemicals for lab analysis, notes Caitlin Corbitt of Chatham College in Pittsburgh. So, she and her Chatham colleague Renee Falconer probed for 13 toxic pesticides and 7 flame-retarding polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the fabric, padding, and core of stuffed animals.

Of 11 toys tested so far, most contained a broad range of compounds, with highest concentrations in the exterior fabric—not the stuffing. This suggests that the toys were probably sprayed with the flame retardants during manufacture and absorbed the pesticides after that, Corbitt says.

PBDE 47 was found in all toys, and PBDE 99 was in most—usually at values of around 2 to 4 parts per billion (ppb). One toy labeled as made from recycled materials, however, carried a whopping 67,900 ppb of PBDE 47. The two PBDEs have been linked to learning impairments in rodents exposed to the chemicals during brain development (SN: 10/25/03, p. 269: Available to subscribers at Flame retardants take a vacation).

Most toys also carried residues of DDT, a long-banned insecticide, and pesticides once used against termites. The surprise was finding high concentrations—100 to 400 ppb—of these chemicals, Falconer says. Such data suggest, she says, that parents should regularly wash absorbent toys that toddlers put in their mouths.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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