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Week of 3.21.08

Finding Non-Toxic Toys

Healthy Child Healthy World logo To find out what parents can do to limit their children's exposure to potentially harmful chemicals like phthalates, NOW sought the advice of the staff of Healthy Child Healthy World. Healthy Child Healthy World is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the health and well being of children from harmful environmental exposures.

NOW: Are there tell-tale signs that a toy might contain phthalates?

Healthy Child Healthy World: The phthalates found in toys are used as a plastic softener in polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC or vinyl). Some PVC toys may be labeled with a V or #3 inside the chasing arrows triangle usually located on the bottom of a product. Most won't be labeled at all. Generally, if a toy is a squishy plastic—like rubber duckies and baby dolls—or if it has highly flexible plastic as a component—like the clear pages in child "photo albums," the clear plastic purses that some girl's toys are sold in, or the plastic-like "fabric" used on some dolls—you should avoid it or call the manufacturer to ask if the product is made with PVC or phthalates.

NOW: Is there a list of toys manufactured with phthalates that concerned citizens can get access to?

HCHW: There is no comprehensive list at this point. One of the best resources currently available is HealthyToys.org which has a searchable database of over 1,200 toys. Also, MomsRising.org has developed a text messaging system that uses the HealthyToys.org database. Parents can simply text "healthytoys" and the name of a particular toy, a type of toy or a toy manufacturer or retailer to 41411 to find out whether a toy is toxic. MomsRising will respond instantly with a message. The HealthyToys.org testing did not specifically look for phthalates, but they did identify when PVC was used, which, as stated above, is generally a good indicator for the presence of phthalates.

NOW: What other chemicals appear in toys sold in the United States that parents should avoid?

HCHW: The list is rather extensive and includes lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, bromine, antimony, chromium, tin, xylene, toluene, and bisphenol-A.

For more information, see:
HealthyToys.org
U.S. Public Interest Research Group: Trouble in Toyland: The 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety

NOW: What are some general guidelines to follow to avoid buying toys with harmful, or potentially harmful chemicals in them?

HCHW: The best guideline is to buy things made from natural materials:
  • Purchase toys made of solid wood (either unfinished or with a non-toxic finish).
  • Purchase toys made of organic cotton, hemp or wool.

Parents should also follow the Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines to avoid toys that may contain lead.

Find more tips here:

Consumer Reports: 12 Shopping Tips

Healthy Child: Environmental Safety of Toys

Healthy Child: Toy Shopping Checklist

NOW: What are some common myths about harmful additives in toys?

HCHW: People assume that products must be proven safe before they can be sold and that the government wouldn't allow unsafe toys to be sold. These assumptions are false. Government regulations are very outdated and weak when it comes to the burgeoning world of chemicals and their use in consumer products, despite our growing scientific understanding of the potential hazards of many of these chemicals.

For example:
  • The government doesn't require companies to fully disclose to consumers what's in their products, or to label them so consumers can make their own choices.
  • The office in charge of regulating children's toys, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), does not have the authority to ensure that toys are safe. The CPSC cannot legally test children's products before sale and would not have the capacity or funding to do so even if they wanted to. Recalls are mainly voluntary, rarely happen and generally only do after damage has already been done.
  • Even if the U.S. had tougher regulations in place for local manufacturers, imported toys would still slip through the regulatory cracks given the CPSC's current capacity. Right now, there are only 15 staff people watching hundreds of ports of entry (down from a peak of 970 staff 27 years ago).

The fact of the matter is that the chemical regulatory system needs an overhaul. Around 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in everyday products and roughly 2,500 new ones are introduced every year. Few of these have been adequately tested for potential health impacts on children or developing fetuses despite their known unique vulnerability to these chemicals. And none have been tested for cumulative effects (i.e., how they may interact with one another), but that's how we are exposed to them every day.

NOW: Are there any U.S. retailers you would single out for *praise* for their proactive approach to selling toxin-free toys?

HCHW: While we do not endorse any companies per se, we know many manufacturers are committed to safe, PVC-free toys including:
Brio, Chicco, Early Start, First Years, Ikea, Lamaze Infant Development, Lego, Little Tykes, Playmobil, Primetime Playthings, Ravensburger, Sassy and Tiny Love.
Toys "R" Us has begun phasing out PVCs in its own line of products and has announced that beginning in January 2009 all products sold in any Toys "R" Us or Babies "R" Us store in the United States must be produced without the addition of phthalates that have raised concerns about infant safety. Toys "R" Us is joining a growing list of dozens of companies including Target, Wal-Mart, Sears, Kmart, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Apple that are eliminating or reducing PVC products and packaging. You can find a comprehensive list of companies at: http://www.besafenet.com/pvc/companypolicies.htm

While it is outstanding that so many major manufacturers and retailers are making this commitment, phasing out PVC is only one piece of the solution. Parents shouldn't have to worry about what other chemicals may be lurking in children's products.

There are many small companies committed to selling completely non-toxic, natural toys. A simple search on-line will result in a large list of vendors to buy safe toys from. A few we have come across include Beyond-learning.com, Bioviva.com/us, Crispina.com, Kenanausa.com, Naturalplay.com, Novanatural.com, Oompa.com, Playstoretoys.com, and Treeblocks.com.

NOW: What other toxic chemicals should parents watch out for—and perhaps use your website as a resource to learn more about?

HCHW: Unfortunately, the list of chemicals is too long to include here. As stated above, there are thousands of chemicals used in everyday products and only a small handful have been adequately tested for their potential health impacts on children's vulnerable, developing bodies. Some of the main steps we encourage parents to take in order to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals are to eat organically grown foods, use non-toxic cleaners, find natural ways to control pests, and reduce the use of plastics. Parents can find dozens of easy ways to practice these steps, as well as a wealth of additional information about everything from the latest science to safe shopping on our website, www.healthychild.org.

Additional Resources:

Healthy Child Healthy World - healthychild.org
Video: Dr. Galvez on Plastics and Childhood Exposures
Consumer's Union: Not In My Cart
U.S. Public Interest Research Group: Toy Safety
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