This holiday shopping season, more than any other, is likely to have many parents feeling overwhelmed as they try to determine which toys are safe and toxic-free following several toy recalls last year.
But, we assure you, there are safe toys out there and below are resources to help you find them.
Parents should become familiar with the Web site HealthyToys.org, maintained by the nonprofit group Ecology Center, which uses x-ray technology to detect lead, PVC (aka poison plastic) and other heavy metals and chemicals in both plastic and wooden toys.
HealthyToys just released the 2nd annual consumer guide to toxic chemicals in toys which found one-third of the 1,500 toys tested contained medium or high levels of chemicals.
Lead was found in 20 percent of the toys tested, which included 54 products that exceeded the 600 parts per million (ppm) state legal limit set last year and 164 above the recommended 40 ppm by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
On a positive note, the Center reports a 50 percent reduction in toys with elevated lead levels in this year’s tested toys compared to last year’s.
Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
By February 10, 2009 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act will ban use of phthalates (often used in plastics) and will impose stricter lead standards for toys made after December, which means kids are not protected this holiday.
While Toys “R” Us and other retailers have begun complying with the new rules, others may be offering steep discounts on unsafe toys that do not meet new standards. HealthyToys warns not to be tempted by rock-bottom prices and to consult the Web site before buying any toys.
Recalls.gov can also be helpful, especially when buying used toys on popular Web sites such as eBay and Craigslist that may have been recalled.
The Green Guide recommends the following sites for Safer Toys
Green Guide's Toys Buying Guide
Find local toy makers at GenGreenLife.com.
When shopping for electronic toys, parents can visit Greenpeace’s most-recent greener electronics report. They rank companies based on how committed they are to making products free of toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, as well as other hazardous materials.
How to choose Safe Toys
Avoid products that have a “3" inside the recycling symbol, or that say "vinyl," "PVC," or are unlabeled. You can use the smell test; plastics made with vinyl usually have a specific plasticky like smell, similar to that of a new shower curtain.
Unfinished solid wood does not pose a health threat to children. However, when it comes to finishes, they often cause concern. Natural oils such s linseed and beeswax is safest. Because ingestion of mineral oil has been linked with inhibited lung functioning and lipoid pneumonia, wood toys finished with mineral oil are not recommended for children under three.
Due to risk of formaldehyde from glues, solid wood toys are preferable to ones made with pressed woods. Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.
Electronics & Battery-Operated Toys
Solar-powered electronic toys or those that run on rechargeable batteries are good choices. Because rechargeable batteries contain heavy metals, be sure to treat them as hazardous waste at the end of their lifespan. For proper disposal, visit RBRC.
There are millions of toys available and as such the Ecology Center was not able to test all of them. However, consumers can visit the Web site and use the Test My Toy! feature to nominate products they would like tested. Visitors can vote on products to give them greater priority among the long list of products that need testing.
Once you choose your toys well, you can focus – with peace of mind – on the joy of the holiday and the smile on your child’s face as they tear open their gifts. #