Just because a toy is on a shelf in a toy store or marketed online doesn’t mean it is free of toxins and safety hazards. For 30 years the USPIRG, a consumer group, has found unsafe toys on the shelves, even despite regulations intended to keep our toys healthy for children. Before you start your holiday shopping, check out these 10 points to be sure the toys you buy are safe. Consider sharing this article with grandma and others who might be shopping for your little ones… it beats having to take the toxic toys away later!
- Avoid the shiny vinyl stuff: Pthalates are a class of toxins associated with vinyl products, especially shiny vinyl coverings on backpacks, 3-ring binders, lunchboxes, hair clips, etc. DEHP is one type of pthalate that is commonly found in products used by children. Pthalates have been banned in toys, but are still found in children’s items that are not technically toys such as school supplies and even furniture. They are also found in the vinyl coverings on some crib mattresses. There is a theory that pthalates in crib mattresses may be associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Pthalate exposure has been associated with a host of health problems including early puberty, reproductive problems, hormonal disturbances, and even cancer.
- Test your toys and your home for lead: One year I got a coffee mug that had a cartoon on it about a sleep-deprived mom… and it was made with lead paint. Talk about torturing tired moms. That mug failed a home lead test. Lead is associated with poor cognitive development among other health problems, yet it is still used in paint and pigments, especially in products made overseas. Although lead is banned in toys in the United States, every year we recall toys that are found to contain lead anyway. Lead is still permitted in products that are not technically toys but commonly used by children including dishes and drinking glasses. About once a year I buy a few home lead test kits and walk around and test anything that looks like it might contain toxic pigments– this is really the easiest and cheapest way to keep this toxic heavy metal out of your home. You can also request free home lead testing from your local lead control agency, such as Lead Safe St. Louis
- Avoid chromium VI: Chromium VI or hexavalent chromium is used in electroplating, stainless steel production, leather tanning, paint, and textile manufacturing. Ingesting or inhaling chromium VI is associated with cancer. Skin contact can cause allergic reactions. We see this when electroplating is used to coat buttons and zippers in kid’s clothing. Chromium VI testing is complex, so we must depend on consumer safety groups like USPIRG to call out manufactures who violate these standards. Last year USPIRG found a toy tamborine that had about 10x the upper limit of chromium. Don’t shop at stores that have not adopted a publicly available corporate policy on toxins in their products, such as Walgreens. Check toysafetytips.org to learn which companies do not publish their corporate policy on toxins.
- Check the battery compartment: Is the battery compartment cover broken, or is that little screw that tightens it down missing? Fix it before your little one swallows a battery and spends the night in the pediatric ER (or requires surgery to have it removed).
- Skip the magnetic toys: If a child ingests two magnets and then they stick together with a piece of intestine between them, they can cut off circulation to that part of the intestine. Getting the magnets out via endoscopy or surgery is no fun at all.
- Look for choking hazards: Hard candy is one of the most common choking hazards. Watch out for mints and other holiday hard candies that well-intentioned people may give your little ones. Pretend food and other things toddlers like to put in their mouth should be large enough so that they cannot fit through the cardboard tube used for a paper towel or toilet paper roll.
- Stick with age appropriate toys: It’s so tempting to buy your toddler your favorite childhood toys before they are really ready. Wait a few years before you get them that American Girl Doll with small parts or the legos they can choke on. Don’t worry, you’ll be walking on legos before too long.
- No latex balloons: My colleague Dr. Kelly Ross tells this story, “ A beautiful teen-aged girl rolled in on a stretcher to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She was blue. In less than 30 minutes, she would be pronounced dead. An hour ago, she was a smiling, excited girl running around decorating for her birthday party– running around with a latex balloon to her lips. Despite the best efforts of the ambulance crew, her airway was blocked and they couldn’t save her. I knew latex balloons were a choking hazard, but like most parents, had always thought of them as something to keep away from children less than 3 years of age. Uninflated latex balloons, especially the tiny ones meant to be filled with water, can easily be inhaled when someone takes a deep breath. Running while blowing them up raises the risk. Once the balloon is deep in the airway, it is difficult to remove. Teach kids (and your neighbors) that water balloons are just for water. When possible, buy foil (Mylar) balloons which are not a choking hazard.”
- Stocking stuffers from the dollar store? Be careful: One year I bought all my kids little flashlights from the dollar store. Within a few hours the plastic had broken and the batteries were all over the floor. Toys from discounted retailers break quickly and have small parts including those tiny button batteries that are both annoying and dangerous for toddlers.
- Turn down the volume: Exposure to loud noises in childhood can lead to lifetime hearing impairment. At present there are no enforced standards for volume on children’s toys. If you find a toy loud or annoying, it’s much too loud for your child. Turn down the volume (or just take out the batteries).
Stressed out with holiday shopping already? Here are 5 steps to a successful, stress free, and happy holiday.