The Christmas of 2007 might go down as the year that parents were paralyzed by toy recalls, with more than 25 million taken off the shelves.
In August 2008, U.S. congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, a bill that bans lead and several phthalates from children’s products, including toys. Phthalates are a family of chemicals added to plastics to make them soft and pliable. The kind, of course, that kids like to put in their mouths. The problem with phthalates is their link to hormone disruption, leading to breast cancer, early onset of puberty in girls, disruption of sperm in boys and reproductive problems. Not exactly the gifts we want to give our children.
But does this mean that parents can head back to the toy aisles of North America, secure in the knowledge that the toys on the shelf are perfectly safe?
The good news is that any new toys manufactured for sale in the United States are supposed to be free of lead and phthalates.
The bad news, says Mary Brune, co-founder and director of MOMS (Make Our Milk Safe – www.safemilk.org), is that “The Center for Environmental Health tested toys last year, after the law went into effect, and found seven children’s products that exceeded federal limits for lead in children’s products. Most of the items found to contain lead were made from vinyl or soft plastic.” She recommends that parents simply avoid items made from these materials. (Vinyl is easily identified by it’s “beach ball” smell but any soft plastic can be culpable.)
And the further bad news, explains Brune, is that “the move away from lead may give rise to an increase in another toxic concern – cadmium – which may have been used as a replacement for lead in some items.”
The concern with cadmium in kids’ toys is that it’s a known carcinogen and, like lead, can hinder brain development in young children and cause kidney problems. According to a report by MSNBC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention puts it at number seven of its list of 275 most hazardous substances in the environment. What’s more, tests of many pieces of kids’ jewellery showed an astonishing level of cadmium content, more than 90% in some cases.
How can parents spot cadmium? There is no shorthand, though kids’ jewellery made in China is a good thing to avoid. According to Mary Brune, “Parents should check out the Healthytoys.org database to see which toys might contain harmful toxins.”