Jennifer Taggert aka The Smart Mama really has the keys to my heart. The not-lead-contaminated keys, that is. Yesterday, she put her $40,000 XRF analyzer to work after the BlogHerDC conference and checked out the safety of not only my keys, but my kids' toys. OrganicMania joined in the fun, bringing an arsenal of her kids' favorite playthings, and we sat back to watch the master at work. I'm eternally grateful. Here was my takeaway:
After years of testing toys for everything from lead to chromium to arsenic, the Smart Mama has absorbed (heh heh) a bunch of handy tips. I am going to go ahead and pass them along, since there are only four XRF analyzers in the hands of people like her in the U.S. testing toys for individuals, and, as she pointed out, her XRF lease is triple her car payment. Just in case, like all of us (Min Sook Lee, FoodieTots, Green and Clean Mom, Big Green Purse, and The Green Parent) watching her test, you wanted one of your very own but don't really want the budget equivalent of McCain's fleet of cars.
Say NO to the beads unless they are clear! Fake pearls often have lead-based paint on them - it's how they get that shimmer (and some of my daughter's proved her theory). Similarly, Mardi Gras beads are often tainted with lead. Clear glass beads like my mom saved from my '70s childhood? Usually test out okay (ours did). But solid-colored plastic beads in a headpiece tested 518 parts per million of arsenic (our limit in the U.S. is 160 ppm and in the E.U. it's 60 ppm). Hmmm. Jennifer said that unless our kids were still mouthing (have I mentioned that I have a 2 year old?!) the Egyptian arsenic headgear was probably ok to keep. I am thinking I should create an installation piece at a local playground that has pressure-treated wood, in an homage to the toxins of American childhood. Speaking of which, I should probably bring a little fleet of animals to this exhibit, cause it's important to...
Spring for the spendy little animals! Tiny plastic dinosaurs and critters are often tainted with cadmium, apparently. So, it's worth knowing that the cheapo ones (like the ones in the tubes you get for virtually every birthday you've ever thrown for your kid?) are bad news. But the Schleich figurines, which we love (cause who didn't love the Smurfs?) are safe! Woo hoo. She also notes that Safari Limited has PVC/phthalate-free plastics. With phthalates and other endocrine disruptors, what you're trying to avoid is getting them in kids' mouths because the chemicals are water- (and saliva-) soluble.
Speaking of mouthing, even if they're not devouring them, keep your kids away from lead-painted toys. You may be thinking that a lead-painted item is safe if it's not mouthed. That's what a friend of mine said this morning when I called to give her a quick heads-up that -- for some odd reason -- camoflauge paint is often contaminated with lead, in Jennifer's experience. Friction makes lead paint dust, which is dangerous - so no smash derbies with camo helicopters and off-brand cars. She says she has never found anything wrong with Matchbox cars but that the cheap knock-offs almost always have toxins. Sigh. More of getting what we pay for?
Don't let your kids play with your keys! Really! So, this one I feel really stupid about. Not only did I let both of our kids play with (and by play with, I mean chew and mouthe repeatedly) my keys, I followed the advice you also may have seen in parenting magazines to make your kid an extra SET of keys for their personal use. Jennifer tested one of my brass keys (note: brass keys are more likely to be contaminated) and it tested at 129,000 parts per million lead. That's enough to cause significant risk, she says. Lead in keys rubs off with use, so not only should you not let your kids play with them, you need to be concerned about what is rattling around with your keys at the bottom of your purse. Like, say, a pacifier.
Go for clear shades. My daughter's cheezy yet glamorous pink sunglasses? Would have been fine except for the 67 parts per million of lead in the rhinestones. I need to find her some unadorned eyewear.
Don't assume that country of origin is an accurate predictor of safety (or toxins). This one is from me -- we had jewel stickers (like bindi dots?) from India with glittery rhinestones and fake plastic food from a friend in Japan that tested out a-ok. My ability to judge which toys would be safe or not was worthless. Like the home test-kits for lead, which may not be able to indicate high lead levels.
Take your toxic toys to your city's household hazardous waste site. Most of our toys were ok, but we had a little ring and a fake-pearl head ornament that were off the charts for lead (she wouldn't even tell me the ring figures, but the pearl headwear was 1,600 ppm). Jennifer says she takes toxic items to her city dump, where the waste workers try to reject her innocuous looking toys. She insists, telling them the tale of her XRF analyzer and her testing.
Thank goodness in February the U.S. will have the toughest standards in the world for lead in children's toys. I know you will join me in saying that your kids never play with anything not designated as a toy (like the Edgar Allen Poe figurine we chucked into our kids' toybox - chromium hair and all). So it's time we all took an eco-parenting staycation, right?
I really am glad that we're moving in the right direction, but I wish we all could get some peace of mind about the other chemicals used to manufacture our kids playthings. Not to mention the houseful of toys we've already got. I'd like to bring my little boy happiness through his bath toys, not man-boobs. And my little girl? I'd like for her not to have neurological issues because she loves to play dress-up. Many thanks to The Smart Mama for turning into a Super Toy Tester in front of my eyes! Eco superhero, indeed.
P.S. I know we are not supposed to be posting until next week. But some people just like to open their presents early, kwim?