Vintage (1980s-1990s) American Girl dolls may have unsafe levels of Lead in their costumes or accessories.
While American Girl dolls I have tested over the years generally test negative for heavy metal toxicants (Lead, Mercury, Cadmium, Arsenic, and Antimony), I recently had the opportunity to test a vintage (1990s) American Girl doll that had several original outfits — including the one pictured on the doll here in this post. As anticipated and expected with most vintage plastic and metal buttons, the plastic buttons on this particular doll’s original vintage American Girl Doll dress were positive for an unsafe level of Lead.
Introduction (for those new to this website):
Tamara Rubin is an independent advocate for consumer goods safety. She is also a mother of Lead-poisoned children. She began testing consumer goods for toxicants in 2009 and was the parent advocate responsible for finding Lead in the popular fidget spinner toys in 2017. Tamara uses XRF testing (a scientific method used by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission) to test consumer goods for toxicants (toxic heavy metals), including Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Antimony, and Arsenic.
The buttons on the dress pictured had unsafe levels of Lead.
Buttons of outfits on dolls (dolls intended for use by young children) that test positive for a high level of Lead are a concern because of the potential impact if mouthed or swallowed (as opposed to any potential impact from handling with normal use as intended — taking the clothes on and off the doll). The amount of Lead considered unsafe in any single component of a modern (newly manufactured, post-2011) toy intended for use by children is anything 90 ppm Lead or higher in the paint or coating of a component; or anything 100 ppm Lead or higher in the substrate of a component. Because the buttons pictured are unpainted plastic, the 100 ppm Lead limit would apply if this were a newly manufactured item.
How much Lead did these buttons have?
The specific buttons pictured had a Lead level (when tested with a high-precision XRF instrument designed to test for Lead in consumer goods) of 13,500 ppm Lead. These buttons also tested positive for trace levels of Cadmium, Mercury, and Antimony. Again — to reiterate — the buttons were the only component of the doll and her various outfits (dresses, shoes, etc.) that tested positive for any toxic heavy metals. (Her eyeglasses were also positive for Lead, but not anything else on the doll nor any part of her clothing other than the buttons. I will post about her eyeglasses separately.) American Girl is generally a terrific company and, per compliance requirements with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, I would not expect to find toxicants in any components of the dolls or clothing on their dolls produced after 2011.
Here is the exact full XRF reading set for the buttons pictured.
- Lead (Pb): 13,500 +/- 300 ppm
- Cadmium (Cd): 26 +/- 6 ppm
- Mercury (Hg): 127 +/- 27 ppm
- Antimony (Sb): 86 +/- 14 ppm
- Silver (Ag): 18 +/- 4 ppm
- Barium: non-detect
- Chromium: non-detect
- If these vintage dolls (from the 1980s or 1990s) are sitting on the shelf in your home, they are not a huge concern.
- If the doll is being actively played with by your children and you are still using vintage clothing with these dolls, please consider setting the vintage clothes aside and picking up some new clothes for your vintage American Girl Doll. Here are some links to new (likely toxicant-free) American Girl Doll outfits (please confirm that they are the right size for your doll before purchasing!):
- Note: for vintage, in this case, we are talking about the 1980s and possibly as late as the 1990s. Based on a quick Wikipedia search, it looks like American Girl Dolls were first released in 1986.
What else should we do about this?
My readers are collaborative partners with me on this work and so I would also like to suggest that IF you are a hardcore American Girl Doll fan (which I know many of you are), please consider bringing this to their attention. (They might even swap you out some new clothes for your vintage clothes — although I understand that might impact the value of your doll.)
Important to note:
I have NOT done extensive testing of the clothes for the American Girl Dolls (noting variations in different production years and different colors of plastic for example) and while this concern holds true with the specific outfit pictured (and plastics containing toxicants are fairly common in the 1980s and 1990s — all the way back through to the 1960s as well), I don’t know how many of the American Girl Doll outfits have concerning plastic components or accessories. Nor do I know which colors, styles, or years of production might be of concern. I will do my best in the coming months to test more of these dolls and their clothes to get a better sense of the scope of this concern. If you have some vintage 1980s or 90’s outfits from theses dolls (especially if you know exactly what year they were manufactured or purchased!) and would like to send them to me for testing, please send me a note with images of the outfits (email@example.com). To learn more about the testing I do and report here on this website, please click through to this link.
As always, thank you for reading and sharing my posts. It is never my intention to cause panic or alarm. My work is always focused on giving parents specific science-based information — and whenever possible, making sure this information is accompanied by safer alternatives (especially in cases where toxicants are found in consumer goods intended for use by children or intended for use with food). Hopefully, my research will help you and your friends make informed decisions for your children. Please let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them personally as soon as I have a moment.
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