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  • Pistol-packing mamas shoot down toxic toys

Feb 2010
Lynn M. Savage, Features Editor,

Armed only with sleek, ultramodern pistols shaped like a Star Trek phaser, so-called “citizen regulators” are setting out to verify the safety of their kids’ toys.

Concern has grown in the past few years over the materials used to manufacture toys, especially the inexpensive ones found at dollar stores and discount chains. The problem is that toy-makers are under a great deal of economic pressure to use the cheapest materials available. And the least expensive material on the market at any given time might be highly toxic.

Ever since lead was banned from use in house paint in the US and other countries, most people have become aware of the metal’s neurotoxic effects in young, developing brains. Controlling the amount of lead that people are exposed to environmentally was a main impetus behind the RoHS regulations in Europe. What many people don’t know is that lead still is found occasionally in the paint of inexpensive toys made in China and exported to the US and elsewhere.

Frustrated with the lack of regulatory action, Los Angeles-based lawyer Jennifer Taggart went the vigilante route and got herself a gun – that is, an x-ray fluorescence analyzer made by Thermo Fisher Scientific. Although the device, called Niton XRF, costs about $17,000 and up, it quickly reveals whether the object of its aim contains dangerous amounts of toxic metals, such as lead, cadmium or antimony.

Taggart, a blogger who started site, first used the device to test her own children’s possessions. She now rents out her testing services to other concerned parents. And she is not the only one waving an XRF gun around.

Typically sold for home inspection and quality assurance/quality control applications, the XRF’s price tag is steep for the average person, but nonprofit consumer organizations are starting to chip in on devices and offer up quick inspections to the public.

It’s a good thing, too. Because of a recent dip in the price of bulk cadmium, more of that toxic and carcinogenic metal is showing up as a replacement for lead in toys, especially fake jewelry for young girls.

Until regulatory agencies catch up, or consumers stop demanding cheap toys at every turn, citizen regulators may be the next best thing.

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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