Sunday, June 8, 2014

How to Choose the Safest Toys for Your Munchkin: What Chemicals To Look Out For And How to Identify Them

In the US, toys are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Comission (CPSC).  They enforce basic federal standards that include sharp points or edges, small parts that children could swallow, and lead in paint. Unfortunately,however, toys are not tested for safety before they are put on toy shelves for sale. The CPSC works in a reactive way, and toys are only recalled when complaints are filed. 

What does this mean for parents?  Once again, it is up to us to use a critical eye when purchasing toys for our kids.  

Here are some easy to follow guidelines and what you want to avoid regarding chemicals in toys.


Lead is a known neurotoxin  which, when ingested, can cause nerve damage, learning and behavioral problems, reproductive damage and irreversible brain damage.  It was banned in US house paint in 1978 but it is still commomnly used in paint overseas- including paint used in toys.  

The use of lead in plastics has not been banned. According to the CDC "Lead softens the plastic and makes it more flexible so that it can go back to its original shape. When the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms dust"  thus exposing your child.

How to avoid lead in those much beloved wooden toys and other painted toys?

  • choose natural wood toys, not painted
  • Imported painted toys tend to have a higher risk of lead exposure since regulations in certain countries are quite lax.  Choose toys made in the US, Canada, or the EU. 
  • Avoid ALL old (pre 1978) toys with flaking paint, in particular. 
  • Be cautious with cheap children’s jewelry.   A 2006 study by Ashland University researchers found that 70 percent of the 20 cheap toy jewelry samples they tested contained illegal levels of lead, only three of which have been subsequently recalled.
PVC and Phthlalates

PVC or vinyl (#3 in the recycle triangle) is a soft flexible plastic.  Phthalates are chemicals found in soft plastics (they leach out of PVC products) and are also used to add fragrance to products.  Basically anything that smells artifically has phthalates and most soft plastic toys (including teethers) do too.  Why should you avoid this?  Phthlalates are  known endocrine (hormone) disruptor associated with liver and kidney lesions, a higher risk of certain cancers, and may exacerbate asthma and allergies in children.

  • avoid soft plastic toys.  If it smells like plastic its bad for you.  Choose soft toys made out of organic fabric or natural rubber or even silicon in a better option
  • IKEA and some other major retailers have phased out PVC... 
  • Books are usually a great gift option, but try to avoid plastic books made for water or photos since those soft plastic pages have phthalates.  
  • For girls who like dolls, avoid dolls and plastic purses (let your nose be the guide.  If it smells like plastic it is bad

BPA is a chemical used to make hard mostly transparent plastics.  BPA in the US is now illegal in BABY products made for eating (bottles, pacifiers), however the alternative chemicals being used have not been tested for safety, so when a product or even a toy says "BPA free"  you should remain cautious.

BPA is a especially dangerous endocrine disruptor since even small amounts of this chemical have been shown to cause serious reproductive damage, especially when the exposure occurs in utero. Exposure may cause prostate cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, and obesity.

  • once again, avoid plastic toys when possible.   Even when they say 'BPA free"
  • As your child grows, you will find it is close to impossible to avoid plastic toys alltogether.  At this point just remain vigilant and throw the toy out when it becomes worn or when the clear plastic becomes cloudy
  • aviod placing plastic toys in the sun 
  • if your child is placing a plastic toy in his/her mouth try to hand over a safer less toxic option

There are other chemicals you should watch out for including cadmium (commonly found in children's jewelry, toys with batteries and paint cottings) arsenic and bromine.

For a list of some of our favorite toys read our post Non-Toxic Gifts for one- year-olds

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