Monday, December 7, 2009
Antimony: Friend or Foe?
Save the mention of ancient kohl eyeliner ingredients, this post isn't really about sustainable cosmetics. It's about antimony and safe toys, but I figure if you give a crap about what's in your makeup, you probably won't mind hearing about what your kids and pets could get their paws and mouths into as the holidays roll on and the new toys abound. More of such coverage is on Zen of Homekeeping, where this post originally appeared. XO Your Kitty.
We've had real guinea pigs and hamsters. The idea of which, always proved to be more fun than the real thing. The former fling pissy hay and poo ("Don't eat the brown tic tacs," my son would say when we would find said poop far from the cage). The latter scatter, only to be found dead and shriveled in a duct somewhere. If this is not your hamster's fate and he or she lives to the ripe age of 18 months or so, you can expect a lifetime of wild goose chases through the house looking for them and wondering how they broke out of the plastic ball. I'm not really a rodent person.
I am, however, a robot person, and the idea of a sweet little animatronic Mr. Squiggles who won't die or get lost of fling poo is suddenly somewhat appealing. I got all excited for nothing when I learned sometime around Thanksgiving what these were. By the time I got on board, the little bastards had sold out like Furbies or Cabbage Patch Kids. Then my mom got her hands on a couple of them, and now the news that they may not be safe! Here is my report:
I woke Monday morning to the first snow in Indiana, and the report that Zhu Zhu pets may be unsafe due to high antimony content. Merideth Viera announced the news on Today, which basically amounted to the product’s manufacturer insisting the toys couldn’t even be imported into the US if the levels weren’t safe (oh, because that’s always carefully monitored and enforced – hello lead toys!). Then we heard about the throngs of shoppers clambering for these furry little f-ers, selling them for up to three times the retail price on Ebay.
I happen to be expecting two of these toys any day now; my mother tracked them down in Florida. Your Kitty, half-mad with OCD over toxic chemicals to begin with, began fur-reaking out. What is antimony, why is it used, and are these hamster robots going to drive Spot bonkers and then kill him when he stalks and eats them?
All the Today show reported was that antimony is used in flame retardants. Well, that’s all I heard anyway, before I dashed off to my trusty iKitty to begin a whole science project.
Indeed, antimony is used in flame retardants, and it’s actually a naturally occurring mineral that has numerous purposes. In fact, it has been used since pre-Islamic cultures as a cosmetic! It can be mixed with fat to make kohl eye makeup.
Wikipedia cites “The most important use of antimony is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries.” It’s also used to treat protozoal infections (eeew) and to harden ceramic enamels and glass. It’s the sort of thing one would expect to find in electronics such as robotic vermin.
Initially, I decided the boys around here are all old enough not to put a toy hamster in their mouths, so it’s probably OK. But my obsessive thoughts wouldn’t leave it alone, and I worried about my pups (who attacked both the Roomba and Scooba floor robots, and now I'm back to manual labor). What if the dudes and dogs handle these things…will antimony rub off like lead paint chips and hurt them? I dug deeper.
Rather than paraphrase the rather disturbing effects of high doses of antimony, I’ll take the liberty of posting Wikipedia’s paragraph labeled, “Precautions:” (*I edited this a little for space and boringness relevance, but you’ll get the gist)
“See also: Arsenic poisoning
Antimony and many of its compounds are toxic. Clinically, antimony poisoning is very similar to arsenic poisoning. In small doses, antimony causes headache, dizziness, and depression. Larger doses cause violent and frequent vomiting, and will lead to death in a few days…Antimony leaches from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into bottled water, but at levels below drinking water guidelines…”
Aw snap! One more horrible toxin to avoid. See, the thing is, maybe the amount of antimony contained in a Zhu Zhu pet is minimal and thus considered “safe” by toy industry standards. But what about the antimony that lurks in a Wii Remote, or an MP3 player, or batteries, or cell phones? What is the cumulative effect of all this exposure?
And most importantly, what is the effect of chronic antimony exposure to a developing, pediatric brain? Over time, how can we expect children of the Digital Age to develop given the deluge of electronics in our ever-evolving culture?
So, that’s what I worried about today for about 3 hours. How did your morning go?!?