As parents, we know too well that at a certain stage of our children’s lives (namely that of my 8-month old daughter!) EVERYTHING goes into their mouths. It’s just part of life for these little ones, so it’s our job to make sure that whatever does go inside there is safe and not going to leave any trace of chemical or other harmful substance.
Here’s a list of the most common chemicals that may be found in varying levels in today’s conventional, plastic or painted children’s toys (and their yucky implications – which, of course, depend on the level of exposure in each case):
- A heavy metal that can be used for pigmentation in paints and plastics as well as a stabilizer in PVC products (which we’ll get to later). It also is used often in the casting of metal, namely in inexpensive toy jewelry.
- There really is no safe level of lead for children. It impacts brain development, which can cause delays in learning and shorter attention spans. Even worse, these effects are irreversible.
- Used primarily as a flame-retardant in textiles and furniture.
- These flame-retardants build up in humans and can cause reproductive problems for exposed women as well as possible birth defects. They contaminate breastmilk and umbilical cord blood and are classified as “possible human carcinogens.”
- PVC & Phthalates
- PVC is a widely used plastic, very common in children’s toys. It is not easily recycled and extremely toxic when produced and disposed of. It is also extremely brittle, requiring additives to make it flexible (most commonly phthalates, pronounced “thal-ates”).
- Phthalates are a group of chemicals that are most commonly used to add flexibility and resilience to plastic products. They are easily leached and exposed to humans via ingestion, inhalation, or simply through exposure to the skin. Phthalates are most often found in household products from toys to plastic raincoats to that inflatable pool in the backyard. They can also be found in non-plastic items such as personal care products (by way of “fragrance”).
- Phthalates are carcinogenic and they may cause kidney and thyroid problems. They are also linked to increased instances of asthma and allergies. Most notably, they can have detrimental effects on the endocrine system, altering normal levels of hormones in young boys.
- Another heavy metal used in pigments and as a stabilizer in PVC.
- At high levels of exposure, cadmium can be linked to cancer and can cause adverse effects on the kidneys, lungs, and intestines.
- Arsenic (inorganic)
- May be used as a coloring agent in plastics and textiles.
- Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic and may cause cardiovascular problems, skin irritations, and hormonal issues.
- Most commonly used in inks, adhesives, and coatings and most toxic during production and when disposed of.
- Mercury can build up in the body and young children are more sensitive to it. It affects kidney function and is detrimental to the nervous system and brain.
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Used mainly to make rigid polycarbonate plastic (that #7 plastic with PC underneath the triangular symbol). It’s also found in epoxy resins, which are used in the inner coatings of food cans.
- BPA is an endocrine-disruptor; a synthetic estrogen that can cause problems in neurological development, behavior, and fertility. It can trigger hyperactivity and attention deficit and may also lead to cancer and obesity.
So… after all of that shockingly bad news, what can we do as parents and caregivers to ensure that the children around us are not exposed to such harmful substances? The first step has been taken care of just by reading this post! Being aware of what chemicals are harmful and then going beyond that to avoid such nasty substances is a great start. Then, get rid of all of the “toy perpetrators” in the toy box and choose wooden and organic toys. Ensure any coatings are completely non-toxic. Do your homework and purchase toys from reputable companies who have proven that toy safety is their top concern.
Shannon – Research Specialist