Cheap Toys Kill Millions of People Every Year, New Study Finds

Buying Cheap Toys for Your Kids Kills Millions of People Every Year, New Study Finds

Talking Elmo. Blocks. Puzzles. Another “Frozen” doll…Western kids can’t seem to live without the mountain of cheap toys, and it’s a habit killing millions of people by way of pollution-related deaths every year, says a new study.

According to the study published in the journal Nature earlier this week, nearly 3.5 million people die from air pollution-related illnesses every year, “and about 22% of these deaths are associated with goods and services that were produced in one region for consumption in another,” reports the Guardian. Those other regions are predominantly the U.S. and Western Europe.

The researchers noted that emissions are spreading far beyond the local industrial areas where the cheap toys, clothes, and electronics are produced, often affecting other countries including those thousands of miles away because of global air currents moving the toxic air around the globe.

“About 12% (411,100) of early deaths globally were related to air pollutants emitted in a different region of the world,” notes the Guardian.

The research team looked at 13 regions where factories and other industries dominate their exports, as well as data from 228 countries on air quality and deaths associated with pollution. They noted that fine particulate matter pollution accounted for more than 90 percent of pollution-related deaths, which includes “raising the number of deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and asthma,” says the Guardian.

“The tiny particles can trigger asthma attacks in the lungs and can cross from the air sacs in the lung into the bloodstream, where they can cause inflammation, alter the way blood clots, and make blood vessels more permeable. Particulates have also been shown to migrate into other tissues, such as the liver, kidneys and brain, although it is less clear what the health consequences are in these organs, and the effects also depend on the chemical makeup of the particulates.”

Not surprising, emissions originating in China, which produces an overwhelming number of toys sold in the U.S., caused twice as many pollution-related deaths than any other industrial region—as many as 64,800 worldwide, with 3,000 of those occurring in the U.S. and western Europe. China’s pollution output is followed by India, and the rest of Asia.

“If the cost of imported products is lower because of less stringent air pollution controls in the regions where they are produced,” the study authors wrote, “then the consumer savings may come at the expense of lives lost elsewhere.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.