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Zhu Zhu pet hamster a dangerous toy? No more than your next holiday fad

December 7, 2009 |  3:51 pm
Now it tells us. Consumer group Good Guide said today that it may have flubbed when it released a report Dec. 5 saying that this year’s to-die-for toy fad, the Zhu Zhu robotic pet hamster, may contain dangerous levels of tin and antimony.

“While we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error,” read the statement released this afternoon.

Alarmed parents immediately posted comments to Good Guide's website after the study's release last week. "I would NEVER buy one of these for my kids after seeing the chemicals these toys contain. This is a very serious situation," wrote one reader.

False alarm though it may be, the report introduced a new chemical specter to paranoid parents everywhere.

For those worrying about what dangers the substance may pose, antimony is a metalloid – a material that shares some, but not all, properties with metals. It’s used to create polyesters, and employed as a flame retardant for furniture.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, antimony occurs naturally in food, drinking water and the air. If you happen to live in a highly polluted area and are breathing the stuff in for prolonged periods of time, you may suffer from "heart and lung problems, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach ulcers."

If you're not living near a smog-spewing factory that has escaped the Environmental Protection Agency's eye, you're probably OK.

The Good Guide report also singled out antimony for its purported links to cancer as well as lung and heart diseases.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission limits antimony levels to 60 parts per million. The Good Guide says its testing found 93 ppm in the fur of the Zhu Zhu named Mr. Squiggles, but now says its differences in testing methodology mean that the toys may not violate federal standards

Antimony currently gets pretty short shrift at the CPSC website -- it's listed (in parentheses, along with mercury and selenium) as a limited substance in a larger Q-and-A about children's products containing lead.

“CPSC is looking into the Zhu Zhu pet toy and we will complete our review swiftly,” read a short release issued by the commission today.

According to public affairs specialist Kathleen Reilly, the commission will also be examining the guide’s methodology in the process.

Zhu Zhu maker Cepia issued a statement after the Good Guide results were released. “All our products are subjected to several levels of rigorous safety testing conducted by our own internal teams,” CEO Russ Hornsby said today in the statement. The site is directing consumers to their own product testing reports.

A piece of advice for those parents looking for a less-controversial fake pet for little Johnnie this holiday season: Go retro.

-- Amina Khan