Toxic Materials You’ll be Shocked to Find in Toys
Toys are wonderful for encouraging development, creativity and imagination They should also be safe and free of toxic materials. Green Living expert, Aida Garcia-Toledo shares her tips on choosing the right toys for your child for optimal fun and safety.
Play is essential for children; they learn about themselves, others, about how the world works and develop important life skills. So it’s vital that their playthings be free from toxic chemicals. It can be a surprising wake-up call for many parents to learn that some of their children’s favorite toys could be exposing them to harmful chemicals. As parents, most of us believe that ‘someone’ is making sure toys are safe and toxin free, however this is not always the case. Just this last year, some of the most popular toys of 2018, squishes and slime, were in the news due to harboring harmful chemicals. Squishies, were taken off store shelves in parts of the EU after they were found to contain high concentrations of dimethylformamide (DMF), which can causes risk of liver damage and irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract in children. Slime, sold online, was found to contain unsafe levels of boron, a mineral that can cause irritation to the skin, diarrhea, vomiting and even infertility in high amounts.
In the US, toys are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC enforces basic federal standards that include sharp points or edges, small parts that children could swallow, and lead in paint. Unfortunately, toys are not tested for safety before they are put on store 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? It means it is up to us to use a critical eye when purchasing toys for our kids.
Here are some easy-to-follow guidelines on how to avoid the most common chemicals that can still be found 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 commonly used in paint overseas, including paint used in toys.
Additionally, 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 toys:
- When possible, choose solid wood toys, not painted nor treated wood
- Imported painted wood 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 inexpensive children’s jewelry, since it is not uncommon for these to contain lead or other heavy metals.
- When buying paints for children choose water-based paints made with pigments found in vegetables, fruits, roots, herbs and/or spices to avoid lead and other heavy metals and solvents.
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PVC and Phthalates
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 artificially has phthalates and most soft plastic toys could too. Polymer clay, used for modeling, is also made with PVC and softened phthalates.
Why should you avoid this? Phthalates are known endocrine (hormone) disruptors associated with liver and kidney lesions, a higher risk of certain cancers, and may exacerbate asthma and allergies in children.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has set limits to a dozen different phthalates in toys, however these chemicals can still sometimes be found in toys.
PVC is an incredibly toxic chemical that is harmful to our bodies and to the environment right from the production phase through to disposal. It contains additives like phthalates, lead, cadmium, organotin that are quite toxic and have been linked to asthma, allergies, reproductive problems and cancer.
Even if a product is made of PVC and labelled “phthalate free” the PVC may still contain other additives like lead or organotins which are also toxic and can affect the central nervous system, skin, liver, immune system and reproductive system.
How to avoid Phthalates and PVC in toys:
- Avoid soft plastic toys. If it smells like plastic, it is bad for you
- Choose soft toys made out of organic fabric or natural rubber
- Books are usually a great gift option, but avoid plastic books made for water or photos
- Avoid plastic dolls, plastic purses and accessories (let your nose be the guide – If it smells like plastic it is bad)
- Take caution when buying outdoor toys. Many outdoor and water toys are made of PVC
- Choose vegetable-based clays or make your own at home instead of Polymer clay, which is also made with PVC and phthalates
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Most of us know about BPA – a chemical used to make hard, mostly transparent, plastics. BPA is also used in soft PVC plastic. BPA, and other Bisphenols, mimic the hormone estrogen and have been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, female infertility, and obesity. BPA is an 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.
BPA in the US is now illegal in baby products made for eating (bottles, pacifiers etc), but still allowed to be used in toys. Even items that claim to be ‘BPA free’ should be treated with caution since BPA is often replaced with other Bisphenols – substitute chemicals that are proving to be similarly harmful to our health.
BPA is commonly used in jewelry, bath and pool water toys, outdoor games and play structures, and shoes. Other bisphenols are commonly used in clear hard plastics
How to avoid bisphenols in toys
- Avoid plastic toys when possible. Even when they say ‘BPA free”
- Choose toys made of alternative materials, including FSC-certified wood and natural fabric
- As your child grows, you will find it is close to impossible to avoid plastic toys all together. At this point just remain vigilant and throw the toy out when it becomes worn or when the clear plastic becomes cloudy
- Avoid placing plastic toys for extended periods of time in the sun or exposed to high heat
- If your child is placing a plastic toy in his/her mouth try to hand over a safer, less toxic option
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Flame Retardant Chemicals (PBDEs, Antimony trioxide and others)
Play tents, tunnels, toy vehicles, changing mats, bath and pool water toys, false hair, and even some stuffed animals and children’s foam products can still contain flame retardant chemicals.
Flame retardant chemicals have been linked to endocrine and thyroid disruption, impacts to the immune system, reproductive toxicity, cancer and adverse effects on fetal and child development.
How to avoid flame retardant chemicals in toys:
- Read the label. Upholstered or foam containing products with a TB 117-2013 label that reads “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals” do not contain added flame retardant chemicals
- Read the fine print. If the item says it is flame resistant, chances are that some chemicals have been added to it.
- Fabric toys made of certified organic materials do not contain flame retardant chemicals
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This carcinogen is often a byproduct that can be found in some children’s toys. Toys made of composite wood could contain adhesives that release formaldehyde. Additionally acrylic paints – both solvent-based and water-based – could off gas formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also sometimes used to bind pigments to fabric (in dolls and stuffed animals) in order to achieve wrinkle resistance and water repellence.
How to avoid formaldehyde in toys:
- Look for water-based (they are safer than oil based) paints that specify they are formaldehyde free, VOC free and odor free.
- Opt for solid wood in lieu of composite wood toys
- Choose certified organic fabrics and dolls
- If a product is labelled “wrinkle free” or ‘Water proof” find out how they achieve this