Kids & Parenting

Protect your child from toxic toys

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Baby biting toy
Plastic objects, which can be toxic, are tempting to babies. They have a tendency to explore objects within reach by putting them in their mouths
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Awareness is the first step in keeping your child safe.

Toys are supposed to be fun, not dangerous to children's health. As parents and pediatricians can attest, toxic toys have become a growing concern. At present, four particular concerns are resulting in large recalls of toys by manufacturers and stimulating governmental bodies to examine preemptory policies banning the use of possibly toxic materials in the making of toys and other products for children, especially those under the age of three.

Pressing for Government Regulation

Policy debates have been fueled by studies of the effects of chemicals on animals, observations of possible effects in humans and growing campaigns to protect humans, animals and the environment against the damage that can be caused by chemicals in general. Focus on equipment and toys designed for babies and young children reflects concerns about the impacts of chemicals on those with low body weight, rapidly growing brains and bodies and the tendency to explore objects within reach by putting them in their mouths. Environmental groups, parent groups and children's advocacy organizations have intensified campaigns pressing for government regulation of the toy industry.

Banning 'Plasticizers' Around the World

In 2006, the European Union (EU) and 14 other countries joined in banning the chemical group known as phthalates from toy manufacturing. These 'plasticizers', used in the manufacture of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic, make the plastic soft, pliable and very tempting to babies and teething toddlers. Phthalates have been implicated in animal organ damage and cancers. In 2007, this legislation was expanded to control or ban even more chemicals from other consumer products, although chemical industry pressures created many exceptions to the ban.

Plastic Bottles and Organ Damage

At the end of 2006, the city of San Francisco enacted a ban on both phthalates and bisphenol A, an essential ingredient in the clear polycarbonate plastic used in some toys and in baby bottles. Polycarbonate plastic also forms the can-liners for a wide range of foods and beverages, which were not covered by the ban. The city based its actions on animal studies that pointed to possible links between bisphenol A ingestion and effects on brain and reproductive organ development. Observational studies suggest strong links between bisphenol A and early puberty in girls and incomplete masculinization in baby boys; pregnant and lactating women are also regarded as being in danger.

Anecdotal Consumer Experience is Important

While bisphenol A remains a subject of strenuous contention and was finally omitted from the city ban, San Francisco's actions formed the basis for a California-wide ban of phthalates in toys, signed into law in October 2007 and due to take effect on January 1, 2009. The small scale of a 1998 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) study on phthalates suggests that the Commission may need a larger volume of scientific studies from a variety of sources in order to set policies on both toxic toys and other materials used in consumer goods. The CPSC strongly encourages reports of accidents, toxic incidents, and hazards in all consumer projects. Anecdotal consumer experience is important to research and recall decisions.

Lead Poisoning From Toys

On the national level, the most well-known recalls of toxic toys have involved major toy manufacturers blaming subcontractors or foreign supplies for unacceptable levels of lead in toys. Lead hazards in consumer products, as well as many other toxic materials, design-faults and other dangers are regulated, by and large, by the CPSC. Other governmental bodies bear some of this responsibility, covering issues involving automobiles, infant and child car seats, food products, cosmetics and bad business practices, all of which are regulated by other federal agencies or commissions. Lead impacts strongly on infant/child brain, organ and nervous system development, as well as pregnant or nursing women.

Children Swallowing Magnets

A more recent concern  is the widespread use of small, and therefore ingestible, magnets in toys. The CPSC reports that swallowing one or more small magnets can result in intestinal damage, possibly life-threatening, in infants and young children.  At present, consumers are warned to monitor children with toys containing magnets.

Be Aware and Report Concerns

Many support groups insist that awareness is the first step in solving a problem. Certainly, awareness of what may constitute a dangerous or toxic toy is critical to providing safe toys and equipment for children. Knowing that government agencies, environmental groups and child advocacy organizations welcome cautions and concerns about toxic toys means that one can locate active agents for policies protecting children from toxic toys.

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