Lead in Little People Toys Confirmed

There was the colorful parking garage with that nifty gas pump near the exit, the barn tote complete with silo, tractor, fencing and animals, the airport terminal COMPLETE WITH A FREAKING AIRPLANE!? If any of these items rings a bell, you—like your author—undoubtedly had a childhood replete with the Little People toys made by the Fisher Price company.

So much variety, so much color and so much fun! Unfortunately, researchers at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, published research in the most recent Journal of Environmental Health showing that non-vinyl toys—including Little People and also Barbie dolls—from the ’70s and ’80s sometimes contain lead in excess of 1,000 ppm! In case you don’t really know what to make of that figure, 1,000 ppm is 10 times greater than the present allowable lead level in the United States.

Whenever I surprise someone by telling them product _______ (fill in the blank) contains lead (like paint, cosmetics, tile glazing, e.g.), the next question I usually get is, “Why’d they add lead to ______?” Invariably, my answer is always, “For better durability and color.” So it’s no surprise that the researchers, including Gillian Zaharias Miller and Zoe E. Harris, found, “The metals are almost certainly colorants or pigments. Lead chromate, also known as chrome yellow, was a standard plastic colorant in the era in which these toys were made. Lead sulfate and lead oxide were mixed with the chromate in varying amounts to produce a color palette from light yellow to red.” Ahh, those colors …

So why is this a problem? Simply put: There’s no safe level of lead in a child’s body. Furthermore, there’s no safe level of lead in an adult’s body, either. In their article, the researchers dutifully remind readers that “even very low amounts in a child’s body are linked to reduced intelligence.”

So, we’re sorry to rain on your vintage toy parade, but maybe you could put those toys in a nice display case?