I’ve recently become increasingly aware of the dangers of children’s toys. Toy recalls are all over the news, and recent reports by reputable agencies such as the Environmental Working Group are finding toxins in our toys and homes. Although some of this may at first seem to be a big media scare, I’ve come to believe that it is in fact a real concern. CNN.com published an article in which a family underwent testing to determine what toxins their bodies were carrying. The children “had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents….He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that's been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.” Lead poisoning and other chemicals in our bodies are serious concerns; couple this with the fact that autism is on the rise – 1 in every 150 children is currently being diagnosed as somewhere on the autism spectrum, and you will realize that we are contending with a serious issue. I’m not implying that lead toys are causing autism in children, but I am aware that there are numerous health problems and autoimmune disorders that doctors cannot find a cause for and I do believe that they are related to our lifestyle and environment. Any attempt at making our daily lives safer and healthier for our children is worthwhile and a valuable effort.
Of course this brings to mind the question – are my kids safe? There isn’t exactly a definite answer, as there are many variables, but this question keeps nagging and prompts some action. I’ve spent many hours researching the issues and trying to wrap my head around what is safe and what could be unsafe, and what to do about it. I’ll start with the issues and then try to summarize and explain the position that our family is taking.
Recalls – toys are being recalled left and right for lead paint in excess levels. I’m glad that toys are being recalled, but it leaves me wondering what next – do I have a toy that will be recalled next week, leaving my child with lead in her system and a $5 voucher for a replacement toy? Do I have a toy that was overlooked and will not be recalled, but actually contains lead? At the risk of making this article far too long, I’m including a quote from http://saras-toy-box.blogspot.com, it’s the best summary of the lead issue that I’ve found so far. This article is from a blog about toys and toy safety that I recently came across; I’ve found it to be very informative and a great resource. Italics are my own added emphasis.
“The risk from lead occurs when a child put a toy in his mouth. This is of greatest danger to children under two because they naturally explore the world with their mouths, and also have fast growing brains. Low levels of lead affect brain development and can cause developmental delays in young children. Lead has also been shown to effect adult brains, is toxic to the kidneys and blood and is a powerful carcinogen. There are no symptoms for lead poisoning, so all children should be tested for lead exposure.
There are two types of lead contamination in toys. Surface (or coated) lead and embedded (or substrate) lead.
Most of the recent recalls are due to surface lead. The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates surface coated lead and has set the standard at no more than 600 ppm (parts per million). There are no regulations for non-toy products.
Embedded or substrate lead is often used as an additive in such materials as vinyl or plastic, which is why Christmas tree lights now come with a lead warning label. Toys or children’s products with embedded lead meet all federal safety standards. Why? Because there are no safety standards.
Yet, health experts warn that even embedded lead has no place in products for children as even low level exposure poses a health risk. The CPSC reports that a four-year old boy died from lead poisoning after ingesting a jewelry charm with embedded lead. Wal-Mart and Toys R Us voluntarily recalled bibs this year due to concerns regarding embedded lead.
Things to know about lead in toys:
- Lead is not only a problem with metal toys. Lead can be painted on wood, fabric and plastic as well as injected into plastic and vinyl.
- Plush Toys are NOT guaranteed to be safe. While most fabric toys do not have lead, you do need to watch out for fabric that has been painted. The recalls of fabric blocks and a plush Curious George doll underscores the possibility of lead contamination in fabric toys.”
For the full article, see: http://saras-toy-box.blogspot.com/2007/11/lead-in-toys.html
Mega Blocks have been found to contain embedded lead but have not been recalled.
One thing that stood out to me in flipping through the recall list on cpsc.gov is the fact that these are toys that I would buy and could easily have in my home. The list of recalls is huge, and these aren’t just about a piece breaking off, most of them are lead related recalls.
Plastics- Plastics have come under scrutiny again lately because of the discovery of a toxic chemical, Bisphenol A, which has been found to leach out of plastic containers including commonly used water bottles and baby bottles. Another concern includes products (children’s teethers and toys) made with PVC including pthalates, chemical compounds used to make the PVC soft which can leach out of the toy and into a child’s body.
Bisphenol A (BPA)- Bisphenol A is an endocrine disrupting hormone that has been found to leach out of certain plastics and the lining of canned foods.
“Bisphenol A is a Developmental, Neural, and Reproductive Toxicant
- Scientists have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other problems.
- For example, in one recent study, a single, low dose of bisphenol A administered to a newborn rat resulted in hyperactive behavior.
Exposure to Bisphenol A is Widespread
- Bisphenol A is most commonly used to make clear polycarbonate plastic for consumer products, such as baby bottles. Through use, this plastic breaks down and leaches bisphenol A into liquids and food to which it comes into contact.
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found bisphenol A in the urine of over 95% of people they tested.
- Alarmingly, the median level of bisphenol A in humans is higher than the level that causes adverse effects in animal studies.”
BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics, labeled #7 in the triangle recycling code stamped on the bottom of an item. Most Nalgene bottles are #7 plastic, as are most baby bottles. However, manufacturers are not required to list the type of plastic their items are made of. One website has taken the challenge of figuring out which baby bottles, sippy cups, and pacifiers are made out of this harmful plastic. (http://zrecs.blogspot.com/2007/11/z-report-bisphenol-in-baby-bottles-and.html) Some companies use polycarbonate in certain products and not others, and other companies will not even respond to inquiries to disclose this information. There are no regulations in place on this issue, so companies could change their products at any time and include polycarbonate plastics even if they currently do not use them. There are a handful of responsible companies who are concerned about the issue and are committed to not using polycarbonate plastics.
Pthalates – Pthalates are found in PVC products and are a human carcinogen. Toy manufacturers have been pressured in the past to stop using pthalates, but it remains in some toys and kitchen plastics and is a danger. Teethers, bath books, and other soft plastics can contain pthalates. Again, companies are not required to disclose the use of PVC in their products. PVC often has lead added for strength, is the least recyclable plastic, and poses numerous risks to the environment and human health.
What to do? When I try to wade through all this information on plastics and what is safe and what isn’t, it starts to get a little crazy! For example, one website lists that Glad Cling Wrap and Saran Wrap are supposedly safe, but one should avoid Reynolds Wrap because it is made of a different type of plastic…. and so on. I’m in the process of trying to figure out which plastics in our kitchen and toy box are safe and what isn’t. Many items aren’t labeled and that requires trying to contact the company for information on what type of plastic certain items are made of. I’m left wondering if the other types of plastic in my home are actually safe, or if the toxin just hasn’t been identified yet. Plastics are petroleum based and are filling up our landfills and oceans, which is another reason to avoid them. I’ve referenced an article below that talks about the sheer mass of plastics in the ocean and how its harming wildlife and humans.
This brings me to the practical steps that our family is taking. Research in these areas is ongoing and confusing at best. However, there are real dangers involved. We will continue to research and educate ourselves on these issues. Ideally, changes need to be made on a corporate level, but in the meantime we’ll start at home by making the best decisions we can based on the information we have. Some of these are clear choices, and some are goals that we are working towards. Replacing every plastic item in our home is unrealistic. Taking a closer look at what plastics we use in our kitchen and the toys that our children play with seems like a logical first step.
Kitchen- As far as kitchen plastics, we have removed numbers 3, 6, or 7, and will not be using items with those numbers. Plastics should not be used in the microwave, and we are looking into alternates for food storage containers, such as glass. Cling wrap is best avoided as well. I’m still trying to figure out which type of plastic many of our baby items are (bowls, soft tip spoons, cups, etc). We will be replacing anything that is found to be PVC or #7 plastic, and any future purchases (sippy cups, bibs, etc) will most likely not be plastic to avoid this issue entirely.
Toys- Based on what we have learned, we would like to avoid purchasing plastic toys altogether. We have already started eliminating some of what we have. While we are not throwing everything plastic out the window, in the long run we would like to be able to provide safer alternatives. Although this means that practically everything at places like WalMart and Target is off limits for our home, we are finding that this is a step that more and more families are taking given the recalls and the possible dangers (embedded lead, surface lead, PVC with pthalates, BPA).
Aside from eliminating plastic toys due to safety hazards, simplifying our lives a bit more by having less is another reason. We have a small living space and often feel cluttered as it is. Replacing a large number of plastic toys with a few higher quality play things will help us in more ways than one. Several brands offer non-toxic products, most of which are made of wood and other natural fibers. Some can be found at specialty toy stores and most can easily be ordered thru online retailers. Items such as books, music, and art supplies can still be purchased locally.
We are constantly researching and making the best decisions we can for our family. We appreciate your help and understanding as we work through all of this.
CNN article on body burden testing:
Article on PVC and pthalates:
BPA in specific sippy cups and bottles:
More about plastic containers, including specifics on what products to avoid:
Why Not to buy from
What to Do (specific steps to take in avoiding harmful plastics):
Sara’s Toy Box:
Sara’s Toy Box article on gift ideas from super stores:
Article on Natural Toys
A quote from palumba.com: “Toys made from natural materials such as wood, silk, wool or beeswax have a warm and honest quality. For example, a doll with a woolen body becomes warm in the embrace of a hug while synthetics remain cold. A wooden block has the weight that one expects to encounter when lifted. It tells a truth about the nature of the object whereas a plastic toy gives a false impression of weight and mass. Young children are learning about our world through their senses. It is our responsibility to provide an environment that tells the story of our world honestly.”