Zhu zhu pets, antimony, the Good Guide and misleading the public

Mr. SquigglesI have to say I’m more than a little upset about the recent publicity the Good Guide has achieved with its press release claiming that one of this year’s hottest toys – Zhu Zhu pets – contain dangerous levels of antimony. I mean, I want to support an effort like The Good Guide – giving the public ratings on the overall “greenness” of consumer products. But not if the organization is going to falsely claim a hazard.

Here’s the basic story – The Good Guide claims that Zhu Zhu pets are hazardous because antimony was detected at 103 parts per millinon (ppm) in one of the hamster’s fur, and 90 ppm in a nose, and The Good Guide asserts that the current standard is 60 ppm.

But that is wrong. The current US standard is 60 ppm soluble antimony in paints and surface coatings used on children’s toys, not total antimony. And that is a big difference. BIG difference. Reviewing the Good Guide’s listing for the basis for its rating, it states that antimony was detected using XRF technology. This is confirmed by Good Guide’s description of the toy testing efforts, wherein it states that the toys were tested using XRF. Now, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know a I have a Niton XRF analyzer. And here’s the thing. As much as I love my XRF analyzer, it just can’t tell you soluble. At all. It only tells you total – total lead, total antimony, total mercury, etc. So the Good Guide is comparing apples and oranges, and raising a big stink. And that is wrong.

If you want to know, here is a description of the relevant standard for toys. It is a standard for heavy metals applicable only to paints and surface coatings, and applicable ONLY to toys  manufactured after 2/10/09. The description is from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

The Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, ASTM F963-07 becomes a mandatory consumer product safety standard on February 10, 2009. This standard additionally places limits on the amount of lead (and other heavy metals, namely antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury and selenium) based on the soluble portion of that material using a specified extraction methodology given in the standard. Toys manufactured after February 10, 2009, will have to meet these requirements.

In other words, the standard is based upon the soluble (also sometimes referred to as the leachable) portion, and only that. And, by the way, you can only determine the soluble portion using extraction methods. XRF just doesn’t qualify.

The Good Guide’s reference to an inapplicable standard is just wrong. You can’t say a company is violating a standard that doesn’t apply.

Plus, it does all of our efforts to reform chemical safety laws a great disservice. You can only cry wolf so many times before people stop believing you. You can’t cry “wolf” when the standard doesn’t apply. You just can’t get soluble results from any XRF analyzer. So shame on the Good Guide.

I call out greenwashing all the time. It goes both ways, you know?

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  1. Hi!
    A few weeks ago I picked up on the Zhu Zhu Hamsters and blogged it. Last night, I surfed and saw the trending Antimony story and thought “Blazes, I’d better warn folks!” and so did.
    However your article has also been promptly brought to my attention so I’ll blog again.
    Thank you for writing this piece! There’s no wish to do anyone a disservice but a very real wish to keep people safe … and sometimes we don’t always get that right, either!

    Alex x

  2. Thank you for this post. As a mom, I obviously want only the healthiest things for my children and would never give them a hazardous toy. However, they love their Zhu Zhus and I don’t want to take them away for no reason. I don’t know all of the current standards so this post is so helpful in breaking it down in easy to understand terms. Thanks!

  3. That’s just disgraceful that they’re making a fuss while using the wrong methods to get results. Losing trust is not a good idea for any business.

  4. Kudos for pointing out the misinformation. What is your opinion on the use of antimony in any child’s toy? Would you buy a toy containing antimony for your child?

  5. Thanks for your post. Are you saying total antimony isn’t harmful?

  6. I am for tougher laws and testing on what goes into children’s toys. I am glad that their are private consumer groups double checking the results. However the thing that I will not stand for is shoddy testing and worse yet, since I am a writer – shoddy reporting and not checking the facts and unbalanced reporting as in the CBS and Everything PR reports.

    And calling you of all people a mommy blogging shill because you are so educated on XRF testing and environmental law is ridicules and insulting.

  7. KCBrewster says:

    Hmm – Many parents are upset because they can’t find one for little Susie Lou for Christmas morning. Suddenly they are touted as unsafe. Coincidence or bitter, and empty handed, buyers?

  8. Christine says:

    So, I understand that they may not have violated a regulation, but are they safe anyway? I would not want my child to play with the toy knowing that these chemicals are present in at all. While I understand what you’re saying, I’m confused by your conclusion.

  9. It is a good thing that you pointed this out, it is not right for the company either that was diligent about making sure their product was up to par, and to then be called out. It is great that there are outlets that helps us figure out what is safe and what is not, but we need to be able to trust that they are using the correct testing methods.

  10. WHOA! That mihaela lica woman is a real piece of work. She reminds me of that, what’s her name?, Hitha Prabhakar woman from last year, only not as articulate (heh). The only response that comes to my mind is explained in this pdf: Unskilled and Unaware of it; How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

  11. PoisonPill says:

    I don’t know about your 3yr old, but mine everything goes in her mouth. Lets see if the standard is 60ppm for a soluble test and goodguide says 93-103 on the surface of the toy, then I would think this is a concern in ANY case. The latest XRF tester is made to test toys for surface contaminates. My zhu zhu pets are going in the garbage in ANY case. You are not helping anyone by saying this is not a concern. So if you own an XRF tester hopefully one of the newer models why don’t you test the toy and post your own results mama? Id rather toss them in the garbage then see my child sick years down the road.

  12. This is a great post Jennifer, thanks for sharing it. I hate to say it but I never really liked The Good Guide’s rating to begin with so when their “report” came out I was already skeptical. Your post sealed it for me.

  13. This is an interesting article. You tend to hear stories a lot like it every now and again – sometimes the ‘facts’ are something to be concerned about without delving too deeply into the subject. However, as you have demonstrated very clearly here, do the homework if you’re not sure and you may well expose some fishy goings on. Thanks.

  14. Thanks for the warning, it’s sad.


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  2. […] Read the full article at thesmartmama.com […]

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  5. […] I took a bunch of flack for raising concerns about Good Guide’s testing of a Zhu Zhu Pet and its applicability given that the applicable […]

  6. […] antimony levels. However, it is scientifically impossible to measure antimony with an XRF gun as Jennifer Taggert quickly explained. Credit also goes to the CPSC who responded quickly, assuring consumers the Good Guide is wrong. […]

  7. […] out, however, that the Good Guide used an invalid testing method. The Safe Mama does a great job of explaining that what they found was total antimony, when soluble is what […]

  8. […] the record, I believe the Zhu Zhu Pets scam was first exposed by the TheSmartMama.com in this post. Isn’t it ironic that a “green” activist is the one to expose the lousy work of […]

  9. […] US consumer product safety standards.  But GoodGuide was wrong.  As TheSmartMama, I published a blog post on Sunday, December 6, 2009, that GoodGuide used x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis to test Mr. […]

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