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UT researcher helps develop safe, green toy certification

Local researcher Catherine Wilt is working to make toys healthier, safer and more environmentally-friendly. 

Wilt, director of the Center for Clean Products at the University of Tennessee, helped develop North America's first and only third-party environmental toy standard, UL 172 for manufacturers. The voluntary certification recognizes companies which use safer chemicals and healthier, more environmentally-preferable materials in toys. 

UL 172, administered by UL Environment, a subsidiary of Underwriters Laboratories, is applicable to play products made from wood, plastic, rubber, textiles, metal and bio-based materials--from balls and action figures to costume clothing and jewelry. 

"While there are standards addressing the safety of toys, such as choking hazards, there are no North American standards to address toxicity," Wilt said. "Toxic toy recalls in recent years have made consumers increasingly wary about the safety of toys. Certification to UL 172 will provide them with peace of mind while giving innovative manufacturers the credit they deserve." 

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were at least 45 toxic toy recalls between 2008 and 2011. All 45 recalls involved toys that were manufactured outside the U.S. While a North American organization manages UL 172, any toy manufacturer in the world can apply.

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"This standard is an important step in promoting greener, healthier toys for children," Wilt said. "Through restricting content such as heavy metals, known carcinogens, and other human health hazards, while encouraging practices like socially and environmentally responsible manufacturing with sustainably sourced materials, this standard will enable ... toy buyers to make purchases they feel confident about."

Its criteria meet or exceed U.S. and European Union requirements for toy toxicity and places strict limits on emissions of volatile organic compounds and helps minimize pollution generated by the production, use, and disposal of toys and their packaging.

The Center for Clean Products, part of Knoxville's Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment, is an internationally recognized leader in the development of environmental product certifications, having developed environmental standards for products and industries as diverse as cleaning products to office electronics and now children's toys. 

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