Zhu Zhu Pets Made in China Disaster vs. American Green Toys

Zhu Zhu Pet

Zhu Zhu Pets are made in China, in the least safe environment you can imagine. They are designed for children aged 4 and up, although on several sites the manufacturer recommends this product for children aged 3 – recommendation that does not comply with their own testing reports, made available by the company AFTER our editorial yesterday. According to this report, the toys were first tested in April 2009 – it is very possible that one toy in particular doesn’t comply with these safety norms, considering how many were recently produced to satisfy the public demands.

I am surprised that Russell Hornsby didn’t learn anything from his experience with Mattel, a company he worked for in the past, a company that has made the headlines specifically because its “Made in China” toys were recalled because of excessive lead in their manufacturing. Mattel offers now financial settlements for parents who bought a toy from Mattel or Fisher Price in 2007 or earlier. So here’s my logic: I believe that Mattel didn’t purposely produce lead infested toys; but the quality control had to suffer because these toys were manufactured in a country where quantity prevails over quality.

Hornsby’s Cepia could now be in the same boat Mattel was three years ago. Sure, we are not talking lead this time, but antimony and tin, however, the company should retest the most recent batch of toys to see if they comply. We have no doubts that the initial batch passed the tests. But what if the latest doesn’t? Little children, aged 4, might still put the toys in their mouth, and they could ingest the substance, that will eventually cause intoxications.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that toys should have no level of antimony whatsoever. I cringe when I read blog posts that defend a toy that is potential harmful for a child.

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. – the “Smart” mama writes (!).

In other words, this lady is trying to tell you: give your child a toy reportedly containing 93 parts per million antimony in the fur, and 103 in the nose. These are “total” levels of the toxin in Mr. Snuggles, not “soluble” levels. Let your child breathe around and munch on the sucker (!) and see how fast he can get an antimony intoxication (symptoms include headache, coughing, anorexia, troubled sleep and vertigo).

By making public the initial test results for its best sellers, Cepia is definitely taking a step in the right direction. The next logical step would be to order new tests to see if there are any reasons to worry. Only new tests make a valid resolution.

We are skeptical as to if their PR firm The Zeno Group, asked these questions.

Trusting companies and their quality standards is one thing. But you and your family don’t want to be the next headline, when the next big recall comes about because of heavy metals contamination’s. A really smart company would have already had the answers to these questions, beforehand.

In the meanwhile, for parents who really care about the safety and health of their children, here is my best Christmas shopping tip: buy products “Made in America” – and ISO compliant. Try to buy “green toys” – they are not more expensive, and some are quite cool. Sure, the PR behind these toys is not as skilled as the PR behind toys produced by large companies, these toys are not “fashionable” – but they’ll keep your children safe. Buy toys from Green Toys, North Star, Plan Toys, HABA for example. Search online at Amazon for green toys, they have a large selection as well.

Watch out for recalls and product safety news from CPSC (US Consumer Product Safety Commission) – and if these are valid concerns in US, they are valid everywhere – these are the recalls for December (so far), and here the list for November. Note that among the recalls you can also find apparel, food, strollers and many other products.


  1. yibbo says

    Of course it’s idiotic to believe products made in America are always Green and safe, it’s well known that most of the cosmetic products and many food products contain toxic chemicals and hormone injections that would be illegal in the European Union. For example, see documentry called “Food Inc”.

    • Phil Butler says

      This is true too Yibbo, products made in the US are a concern too. The problem with China is the scrutiny and the massive numbers of toys made there.


  2. Mihaela Lica says

    @George – use me? Racism? You must be joking. First of all, I am not an American. I am also not against toys made in China if they are safe, what you don’t know however is that over 80% of the toys that come from China are not. Traveled to China I did, thank you, when I worked for an LED manufacturer in Germany. If you come back to offend me one more time, don’t bother. Read the comments policy.

    @Jill Baca – of course I have no damn chemical background! I am a journalist not a rocket scientist. I am not advocating boycotting anything FIY. I am concerned about children and their safety. I can tell you have no concern about these, from what you wrote. See how well I know you after a few lines?

    If you guys don’t get what’s at stake here, then I am wasting my time replying to your comments.

  3. Jill Baca says

    Mrs. Lica, I can tell you have no chemical background from what you wrote — toxic level and soluable level are two completely different things. Simply advocating or boycotting things that are “made in China” won’t fix the problem. Standards and regulations are made by people. The reason those big companies chose to manufacture their products in china is not just because the labor is cheaper but they can get away with regulations from their own country. It is China who really should “boycott” investors from the U.S.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Jill,

      What you suggest with regard to “regulation circmvention” is true (at least in my experience in manufacturing). As for Mihaela’s molecular bio-chemistry training, I doubt there are many of those writing for the New York Times either. She is just reporting news and adding her opinion on aspects. Something one might think these mommy bloggers would be more prone to do before they advocate a trip to Wal-Mart.

      Let’s not let the Chinese connection off the hook too soon though. China’s people have even been up in arms over some of these issues. Whole neighborhoods of children have been poisoned because of their inability or lack of desire to properly address these issues. As for moving businesses to China? If you are an American, South American, European, or from Antarctica, millions of your fellow human beings have lost their livlihoods to people in China. This would not be so bad if the people who took these jobs were any better off, most are not. You see, all of these things we are discussing are within the framework of systemic problems within our society. Bad leadership, greedy corporations, and a disconnected public have led us to almost the point where we collectively have no control over what happens to us. This is as much true because our institutions being defunct as it is out of any Machiavellian plot to confuse people.

      I know that sounds rather drastic for a comment on potentially poisoned puffy pets, but this is just one instance where there are millions of others we know nothing about. The things our leaders and business have chosen to do these last few decades, I am sure, will later on be revealed as the most devastating errors in mankind’s history. To be blunt, the f—-k up so bad things cannot be fixed. Any way, I do have a background in engineering and product development, and the solubility of metal salts under certain conditions is quite different from physical properties. I will address all this as I can over the next few days. For our part, we urge caution for people until a full report on this is issued, rather than a “tweet” from the janitor at the CPSC.

      Thanks for your input Jill, this is how we get to the bottom of all our problems.


  4. George says

    I smell trade protectionism here and a lot of racism. people who havent travel to china and dont know about the country should keep quite. lets the free market decide wheather to buy toys made in china or “green toys”.

    • Phil Butler says

      George, this is not about the Chinese people, it is about the government and their industrial practices. The free market as you call it, is currently responsible for hundreds of millions of people suffering.


  5. Mihaela Lica says

    Right Dan, I am with you on this one! They should not have links to places where people can buy toys they rate as unsafe in my opinion. If you read our previous Zhu Zhu Pets articles (before the Good Guide test release) you will notice that we removed all links embedded in the body texts and images.

  6. mikey says

    While I agree that accusations should not flow freely, this to me is a serious problem. More so because we CAN NOT trust any product made in China in my opinion. THAT I believe.

    You would do well to remember all the pass problems with Mattel, dog toys and the on going list. China can make the products to pass with acceptable levels of toxic material and while our backs are turned change the contents.

    China is NOT the U.S. and I for one wish to God with all my heart we didn’t import half of the junk from them that we do.

  7. Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama says

    Mihaela – That is ridiculous to be concerned simply with the presence of a chemical. You have to be worried about whether there is an exposure to the chemical. Take beloved Legos – they are made of 3 carcinogenic materials, but when polymerized, there is no release of any one of the 3 carcinogenic materials. If you only worry about presence, then nothing is safe. #1 plastic bottles – not safe – they have antimony and other substances. (Admission – we don’t use disposable plastic in my house). All paints on toys (US or not) – barium, titanium. Brass – think household keys, faucets, door knobs, whatever – virtually all have lead (and there is an exposure to lead when handling household keys). Any fleece (pullovers, for example) – antimony.

    Granted, I understand that there are significant gaps in US chemical regulatory policy. I am all for chemical regulatory reform, particularly when it comes to cosmetics. But we won’t get it if we aren’t smart about our battles. Attacking a company without any evidence and charging them with a violation of the law is wrong (and may be grounds for a suit).

    • Mihaela Lica says

      Right, I already replied to this here:

      I think we should really let the experts decide whether the Zhu Zhus are safe or not. Neither you nor Good Guide are authorized to make any safety claims in my book. I am sure you care about your readers, and I think the sensible thing to do would be to advise them to wait till an US authority confirms your claims that Zhu Zhu are safe, or till Cepia presents new tests.

  8. Jennifer Taggart, TheSmartMama says

    I am all for buying green toys and an staunch advocate for children’s environmental health. But there is a HUGE difference between a total level and a soluble or leachable level. And to make a big stink about Zhu Zhu pets does a great disservice for all efforts to reform toxic chemical regulation in the United States. The new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) made the ASTM F963 standard mandatory for toys manufactured after 2/10/09. The now mandatory F963 standard sets a soluble and not a total limit for antimony. That soluble limit is 60 ppm in paints and surface coatings. For the Good Guide to say that the Zhu Zhu pets violate the standard is wrong – the Good Guide tested with XRF (the same technology I use) and XRF only gives total and not soluble readings. That is my problem. Had the Good Guide just said hey, we found antimony, I wouldn’t be complaining. But the Good Guide is saying that the toys violate a standard – and the Good Guide can’t say that with the information it has.

    • Mihaela Lica says

      I understand your position, Jennifer, but in my book, the presence of any toxic substance in a toy for children is a no-no. I don’t care about any standards right now. I am worried for all the children who might be allergic to these substances, even to the so-called compliant ones.

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