Two toxic metals: Antimony, molybdenum used as pigments

Neeta Lind/flickr
By Jane Kay
Environmental Health News
May 6, 2013

Antimony, a little-known metal used as a yellow pigment in consumer products, was detected in 525 children's products, including blankets, clothing and footwear from dozens of companies.

IKEA reported it in textiles of high chairs. Harmony Juvenile Products found it in synthetic polymers of booster seats, and Mattel reported it in infant stimulation toys, cradles, exercisers and toy vehicles, among other items. Hallmark Cards, Michaels Stores Inc., Gap, Gymboree, Nike and VF Corp., among others, reported antimony in baby bibs. It also was detected in dolls and puppets, including those reported by Spin Master Ltd., Avon Products Inc. and LeapFrog Enterprises. Greenbrier International and Horizon Group USA reported it in toys and games.

Some studies have shown that antimony can leach from plastic food and beverage packaging. But no one knows if it leaches out of children’s products.

Georgi Varzonovtsev

It’s also unknown whether children would face any health risks if they are exposed. Chronic high exposure to antimony in the workplace can irritate eyes, skin and lungs, and can bring on lung disease and stomach ailments, symptoms also borne out in animal studies. It has been linked to malignant lung tumors in female rats that inhaled high concentrations as well as sterility and fewer offspring.

Antimony trioxide, identified as possibly carcinogenic to humans, is used in the manufacture of polyester fabrics and PET plastics. It also is a flame retardant in textiles, plastics, paints and sealants. 

Molybdenum, a metal used in orange-red pigments, turned up in 267 products, mainly on articles of clothing, shoes, jewelry and toys.

Lego Systems reported it in building blocks. Mattel reported it in the dyes of dolls and soft toys, pull toys, building blocks, musical toys and games. H&M, Nike, Gymboree, Michaels Stores. Gap, Nike, Gymboree and VF Corp. found the metal in baby bibs. Hasbro found it in infant-stimulation toys, musical toys and toy vehicles. Haddad Brands disclosed it was present in skirts, dresses and trousers.

An essential nutrient in trace amounts, it is naturally found in food and water. But it also has industrial uses, especially in the manufacture of steel and cast iron to increase durability and rust-resistance.

Molybdenum has been associated with reduced male fertility in both human and animal studies.

Men with high levels of molybdenum were more likely to have impaired semen quality and lower sperm counts, according to a study of 219 men in Michigan infertility clinics. The results were consistent with earlier findings of reduced fertility in male animals exposed to molybdenum.

For more information on these metals, search the Washington state database.




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