Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Lowdown on Toxins in Toys

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?


The Purloined Letter said...

How disturbing! Thank you very much for this warning. I'm especially unnerved about the Edgar Allen Poe figurine...

Jennifer Taggart said...

Jess - I had tons of fun too. And thank you for the props. Don't know about being an eco-hero but glad to be able to answer some of the questions you had.

I know we were talking fast and furious, so I just wanted to clarify that the tough lead standard for toys isn't in effect until 2011 and then only maybe. It gets set at 600 ppm first, in February 2009; then drops to 300 ppm in August 2009; and then to 100 ppm in August 2011 if the CPSC doesn't find that it isn't feasible. For paints and coatings used in toys and other consumer products, it drops to 90 ppm in February 2009. For arsenic, there isn't a federal mandatory standard yet for toys in the US. There is a voluntary migration standard of 25 ppm (I did say 60 so you quoted me right - just chalk it up to the red eye). But, I was testing total arsenic and the standard is for accessible arsenic. The voluntary standard will become mandatory in the US under the new legislation. The European Union standard is 25 ppm leachable.

Those tiny plastic play figures are often PVC plastic, and frequently have lead and sometimes cadmium. PVC is bad too because it contains hormone-disrupting phthalates, which aren't good for little kids, especially those that are mouthing. The Safari Limited toys - wild animals, farm animals and dinosaurs - are PVC, but they are free of hormone disrupting phthalates.

And the pink sunglasses with rhinestones were below the standard of 90 ppm, so many people might consider them okay, but still wanted to point it out to you.

I take the "toxic" items to the local hazardous waste roundup - where the household hazardous cleaners and the like are collected.

Rhonda Jean said...

Hello ladies. This is off your topic but I wanted to connect and send my best wishes to you all for this new blog. This is the second connection I have with Green Bean, but my first with the rest of you.

We have started a very similar blog over at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, and it amazes me we stated on the same day. Anyhow, I wanted you to know I want to support your blog and will add a link to it on the co-op and also on my personal blog, Down to Earth.

Good luck with all you will do here.
Rhonda Jean

Olive S. Oyl said...

Green Raven, I knew you'd be perturbed about my dark haired friend. Sorry to break that to you.

Jennifer, thanks again for testing the toys and for all the clarification. Can't wait for your next trip east! You are always welcome.

Rhonda Jean! Thanks for commenting cause I love the looks of the Simple Green Frugal co-op. Let's definitely support each other. Looks like plenty of great reading for me over there.

Burbanmom said...

Frightening beyond measure. Any help for us poor folk who can't afford our own XRF? Has Jennifer published an extensive list? Are there cheaper testing alternatives? A place where we can take our toys to be tested? Or do we throw our hands in the air? Or toss the toys in the trash?

AAAAGGGGHHHHH! I'm so confused! I'm glad my kids are beyond the mouthing stage, but I still don't want them playing with toxic toys.

Diane MacEachern said...

First, let me say that I LOVE the idea of the Green Phone Booth. We may not always get treated like superheroes, but that doesn't change the fact that we are, does it?!!! Thanks for the complete rundown on toy testing - I'm sending it to all my nieces who have babies and toddlers. It's a great reminder that, in lack of strong regulations, consumer demand for safe alternatives is essential.

Green Bean said...

I'm with Burbs. This post makes me want to throw out every toy in my house. Of course, the fact that my kids wake up at 5am to play with their toys every day makes me want to do that too. Extra motivation.

I second all of Burbs' questions.

Olive S. Oyl said...

I agree with you all -- both Diane who said we need to use our clout in the marketplace and that we need concrete ways to make sure our toys are safe. Will talk to Jennifer and also try to find resources for all of us before we resort to making our kids play with a stick and a piece of (organic) string.

Anonymous said...

Likewise, I would love to get a list of the test results. I find it hard to get good information on what contains toxins and what is safe, especially older toys. Are the 1970s Fisher Price play family sets OK? Thankfully, my dad makes lots of wooden toys for my children and I quietly get rid of many of the plastic items a month or so after the holidays and birthdays.


Lynn from organicmania.com said...


I was right there with ya and I can't believe you remember all of this in such detail. All without taking notes! -- Lynn

Anna said...

Can I pick my jaw up now? Wow. This is amazing post! I want that gun that Jennifer has. I would probably throw out my whole house.

Anonymous said...

That's happy news about Matchbox, anyway, as the husband came home from Target all excited about them being just $1 ... kicking myself over the keys, the toddler asks for "his" keys nearly every morning when we leave the house. Ugh!!

Mon said...

It's really a great incentive to minimise most toys and other useless items from our children's lives.

I've requested family and friends only purchase eco-friendly wooden toys, that's a start.

Great blog - I've linked you.

BananaBlueberry said...

I love the green phone booth :)

Electronic Goose said...

This is truly frightening ... thank you for sharing.

Joyce said...

Uh-oh, I ALWAYS gave my kids my keys to chew on when they were little. If it's any comfort, they all graduated from college, but the new granddaughter will not get to play with the!

Erica said...

Thanks for this post! I just found your blog and I'm glad to see this eye opening post for others to read!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin