I 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?