Toxic Chinese dolls popular in Vietnam despite western ban

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A boy admires Chinese "fruit-head" dolls at a shop in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Chinese "fruit-head dolls," which are banned in Europe and the US for containing a dangerous chemical, are being sold in Vietnam without warnings to vendors or users.

Vietnamese authorities, who are testing the dolls, said they have seen no official statements from foreign counterparts about the ban, adding media reports are not enough to slap bans.

Authorities in the US state of Massachusetts seized many of the dolls from a shop earlier this month, and said that tests found them containing phthalates, a plasticizer which can cause cancer and deformities in unborn babies and infertility in men.

BBC quoted Ian Gilmore, an official, as saying the dolls kept resurfacing at street markets and discount shops despite the ban, especially during Christmas since they "represent quite an attractive gift."

The brightly colored dolls have heads shaped like strawberries, apples, watermelons, tomatoes, and black currants, and are sold at many shops in Ho Chi Minh City markets for VND125,000-175,000 (US$6-8.30) apiece.

A salesperson at Bin Bo, a shop in Binh Tan District, said the toy is a favorite among children of around three since they do not only look pretty but also play music when pressed.

They have no labels with the importers' names or mandatory quality stamps.

The shop owner said she is not aware of the health hazard posed by the toys.

"We bought the dolls from a dealer at a wholesale market and have been selling them for a week. If we receive official warnings, we will stop selling them and start recalling them."

Huyen, a vendor in Hanoi's old quarter, said the dolls in the US and Europe are toxic but not those in Vietnam since she has received no warnings.

Ngo Quy Viet, director of the quality and standards department at the Ministry of Science and Technology, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that her unit has taken some dolls for testing.

Action would be taken if the tests show they contain dangerous substances, she assured.

Vietnam does not have safety levels for phthalate content in toys yet, but has, based on western standards, banned and ordered recalls of two kinds of Chinese toys -- a ride-on reindeer and a battery-operated car -- containing excessive amounts of the chemical.

Tuoi Tre reported that the reindeer is back on shelves at shops in outlying districts and with made-in-Vietnam labels, but without any information about its producers.

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