Children’s toys are amongst the last places you’d expect to find toxic chemicals. After all, we know kids are even more susceptible to many hazardous substances than adults are. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of toxic materials that can end up in your child’s toy chest.
In reality, not every toy is made equal- while some are perfectly safe, some toys contain chemicals that can cause serious harm. In this article, we’ll explore how to be certain that your children’s toys are not exposing them to dangerous chemicals.
Why Are There Toxic Materials in Some Toys?
Toxic chemicals are found in all kinds of materials used to make toys, from paints and glues to hard plastics. We’ll review how to avoid them below – but first, let’s review why those chemicals are allowed to be there in the first place.
In the U.S., toys are governed by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which was passed in 2008 and ensured that existing regulations for toy safety became mandatory, rather than voluntary. This regulation set limits on the amount of lead that could be present in painted toys sold in the U.S. and banned “small parts” to avoid choking hazards. The regulation also required toys sold in the U.S. to undergo third-party toy safety testing.
While it would be nice to believe that there are strict regulations governing toy safety, that’s not actually the case in many countries, including the U.S. As a result of these updated toy regulations, recalls on toys have dropped significantly since 2008. However, the regulations only cover the basics, like lead, and ignore other potentially hazardous substances sometimes used in toys. Additionally, many toys may be imported from countries like China that have much laxer requirements, slipping through the cracks of U.S. regulatory oversight. Similarly, while the EU has strict toy safety requirements, imported toys have a higher likelihood of non-compliance with these safety criteria.
For this reason, it’s best to take extra steps to double check that your kids’ toys are safe – even if you’re buying those toys in a country with toy safety regulations.
How to Avoid Toxic Chemicals in Toys
In this section, we’ll review some of the most common chemicals found in toys, and how to avoid them.
Lead was historically used in paint to speed up drying time and increase durability However, there is no safe level of lead, especially for children, who are more affected by it. Exposure to lead can cause lead poisoning, including symptoms such as memory loss, weakness, and, at high levels, kidney and brain damage.
In the U.S., painted toys cannot contain more than .06 percent concentration lead, and some states have banned lead in toys entirely. Despite these legal limits, higher amounts of lead has been found in toys sold in the US in the past, particularly in toys imported from China.
There is no way to test toys for lead at home, so, in order to know how to make sure your children’s toys are NONTOXIC and avoid lead, follow these steps:
- Choose toys made in the U.S., Canada, or the EU, as imported toys are more likely to contain lead. In particular, avoid imported toys with flaking paint.
- Buy high-quality painted toys, especially toy jewelry. Cheap toy jewelry, like the kind sold in vending machines, have been found to contain lead. For example, in 2004, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled 150 million pieces of toy jewelry sold in vending machines.
- Avoid toys produced before 1978, when the U.S. first implemented regulations on lead in toy paint.
- If you’re in doubt, throw it out. It’s better to simply get rid of a toy than to risk lead exposure.
Phthalates are a type of chemical used to make plastics, like the plastics used in toys, more flexible. Phthalates have been shown to cause hormone disruption and fertility problems. In children, exposure to phthalates has also been linked to asthma, neurological problems, and cancer.
While the CPSC banned five types of phthalates in all children’s products in 2017, older toys may still contain phthalates. Avoid plastic toys made in the US before 2018, when this ban went into effect. It’s also best to avoid toys imported from China and other developing countries, as these are more likely to contain banned substances like phthalates.
3. Flame Retardants
Chemical flame retardants are meant to prevent toys from catching fire, and are commonly used in a huge variety of toys, from fabric stuffed animals to plastic bath toys. While this sounds like a good thing, chemical flame retardants can actually be quite dangerous. For example, one flame retardant, chlorinated Tris, has been shown to alter DNA and possibly cause cancer. While manufacturers removed chlorinated Tris from baby pajamas in the 1970s, it was never banned and continues to be found in household items including toys.
In animal studies, flame retardants have been shown to cause cancer, disrupt the hormonal system, and cause problems with neurological development. In 2020, researchers found that flame retardants have surpassed lead as the number one contributor to IQ loss.
Until manufacturers stop using flame retardants, we simply have to take extra caution to avoid these chemicals. Here’s how:
- Buy organic certified toys, as they do not contain flame retardants.
- Read the toy’s label. Avoid anything that says flame resistant. If a label says the toy does not contain flame retardant chemicals, it’s probably safe.
BPA became famous in the U.S. several years ago when consumers started speaking out about the use of BPA in water bottles and other food plastics. BPA and other Bisphenols are chemicals used to harden plastics. These chemicals have been linked to multiple cancers, infertility, and hormone disruption.
While BPA was banned in some baby products like bottles and pacifiers, let’s be honest – almost anything can end up in a baby’s mouth. And BPA and other bisphenols may still be used in toys. Here’s how to avoid BPA in toys:
- Beware of BPA-free labels. While the toy may not contain BPA, it may contain other harmful alternatives, like BPS.
- Choose toys made from safe materials like wood or organic fabrics. Avoiding plastic altogether is the best way to avoid BPA.
- Get rid of toys when the plastic is worn or cloudy.
- Avoid exposing plastic toys to high heat.
- Avoid letting your children put plastic toys in their mouths.
Final Thoughts: Building a Non-Toxic Toy Box
With so many potentially dangerous chemicals, it’s no surprise if parents feel a little overwhelmed at the toy store. It is not easy at that time to figure out, maybe in a few minutes, how to make sure your children’s toys are NONTOXIC. Not to worry – here’s a summary of how to choose the safest toys for your little ones.
When it comes down to it, the best way to protect your kids from toxic chemicals in toys is to avoid materials, like plastic, that are common culprits. Instead, choose toys made from wood or organic fabric. However, we know it’s hard to avoid plastic toys. After all, they’re truly everywhere! If you do buy plastic toys, choose new toys that are made in the U.S., Canada, or the EU, and get rid of them when they start to degrade. Finally, if you’re ever unsure about the safety of a toy, never allow your child to put it in their mouth. To be on the extra safe side, it may be best to throw it out altogether.
Written by: David Evans