“What are phthalates anyway?”
A neighbor asked about the new “safe plastic” baby items and toys that are popping up in stores. She said she’s heard about BPA-free baby bottles and water bottles, but she didn’t really know what it was, or why it was harmful.
We talked for 10 minutes about the toxins in plastic, and then she said, “Great — now I’m wondering what other chemicals are hiding out in the playroom!”
She’s not alone. While many green moms here in the U.S. feel it’s about time we catch up with Europe on product safety, the majority of parents are left wondering what was wrong with plastic toys in the first place.
So what is it that makes most plastic toys dangerous?
It’s actually a combination of a few chemicals, mostly found in PVC plastics. And some of the danger comes from the way the toys are used – and whether it ends up in a child’s mouth.
The chemicals added to PVC make it the most toxic plastic. Just about any soft plastic toy you see is made with PVC. Even worse, you’ll find it in infant items like teething rings, bath toys and squeeze toys. The biggest safety risk with these toxins is that they can leach out – especially when babies or children put the toys in their mouths.
Harmful additives to PVC are:
- Phthalates (pronounced thay-lates) give a plastic toy its soft, squishy feel. These are the gender-bending culprits you’ve heard of – endocrine disruptors. Phthalates not only upset the body’s hormonal balance, they’ve also been found to stimulate the growth of cancers.
- Cadmium is a plastic stabilizer. A known carcinogen, cadmium also affects normal brain growth and can cause kidney damage.
- Lead is used to make plastic toys more durable. Lead affects the nervous system and has been linked to hearing loss, ADHD, and decreased IQ. It’s also a concern because children absorb and retain lead in their systems more easily than adults.
Since 2007 – the year of the lead toys recall – safety standards have improved. And parents have become increasingly more watchful when it comes to imported toys. But we think it’s still up to the parent to watch what comes into their homes and into the toy boxes of their children.
So aside from buying all wooden toys, what can you do to make sure your child’s toys are safe?
- Sign up for recall updates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). You’ll find the latest information on what toys were recalled and why.
- Call or email the manufacturers of your child’s favorite toys to check if they comply (or are above) current toy safety standards. It was a big relief for us to find out Legos don’t contain PVC or phthalates, and that generally they exceed the current standards.
- Choose PVC-free and BPA-free toys, not just for your own children, but for every gift you buy.
- Talk to other parents. Sometimes just bringing up the topic of toy safety at a birthday party helps you realize you’re not alone in wondering what’s best for your child.
If you still don’t feel comfortable with what your research finds, you may decide it’s best to avoid plastic (and plastic-ish) toys altogether. Here are some of our favorite alternatives:
Counting Octopus by ImagiPLAY
Learning to count is fun with this Octopus Number puzzle. Hand-crafted & hand painted with child-safe paints. Made from plantation-grown rubberwood, an environmentally-friendly hardwood. Ages 3+
Bamboo is a sustainable, renewable and durable grass that can endure children’s play. Organeco Bamboo Blocks are treated with a light, water-based stain and then polished with beeswax for a natural, satin protective finish.