by guest blogger Toni Becker, member of the Rodale’s editorial team
Plastic, lead, and questionable practices are highly prevalent in a popular industry—and they pose continuous health concerns. The scariest part is this industry’s goods are targeted at children.
It’s the toy business. Shocking, yes, and even more so when you consider how fragile developing immune systems are and the fact that young kids put everything in their mouths.
In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed, banning harmful phtlatates in toys, setting stricter limits on lead paint, and implementing other guidelines to ensure the safety of one of the most delicate populations. Despite that, there are still major concerns to be addressed in the toy aisle.
Phtlatates, which pose risks of asthma, allergies, birth defects, kidney or liver damage, and obesity in children, among other issues, could still be lurking in older toys. Meanwhile, despite stricter guidelines forced by the 2007 lead paint scares and toy recalls, cases of unsafe lead paint levels are still popping up—most recently in a childrens’ cup sold by a popular retailer.
Plastic still dominates the toy aisles, and while there are tighter restrictions in place now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of lead still isn’t banned. The heavy metal is used in plastic toys to stabilize molecules from heat, and “when the plastic is exposed to substances such as sunlight, air, and detergents,” it can break down and form a dust, exposing children to health risks.
The threat is real enough that the CDC issued a warning last December regarding the potential risk of lead in holiday toys, including toy jewelry. If plastic containing lead makes its way into a child’s mouth (as toys often do), it can elevate lead levels in a child’s blood. There are no such safe levels for children, and over time, behavior and developmental changes will occur in children with elevated levels.
But plastic and lead aren’t the only potential health hazards. This past summer, four brands of crayons and two kids’ crime-scene fingerprinting kits were found to contain asbestos. This carcinogenic mineral has been linked to mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer, and exposure in childhood is reportedly more dangerous than exposure later in life. Yet, there’s no ban on asbestos in crayons because the risk of exposure has been ruled “extremely low” (by the Consumer Product Safety Commission).
So what are parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles to do? Toys are vitally important to a child’s development—they foster a healthy imagination, nurture creativity, and help develop critical motor skills? But the health and safety of your little ones is crucial, too.
We don’t believe you should have to choose between guarding a child’s health and encouraging play. There should be no sacrifices when it comes to our children. That’s why we’ve found several fun and healthy nonplastic alternatives that boost physical and mental development and, as a bonus, are earth-friendly.
One example of a toy company doing things right is PlanToys: This maker’s toys, such as the PlanToys stacking bear, engage young minds and develop key skills using water-based dyes, non-formaldehyde glue, and reclaimed, nonchemical, and FSC-certified wood. Other wooden alternatives of childhood favorites include this little red barn and farm animal set and green dollhouse with family, so you can easily ditch the plastic while still giving the kiddos the toys they want. Fun, colorful, yet safe play things like a skipping rope, blocks, a robot toy box, a vegetable garden set, and a pastry dough set can inspire hours of imaginative play.
Feel really good about what younger ones are putting in their mouths with this Kringlering Clutching and Teething toy. For gifts the whole family will enjoy, there are games like PlanToys’ Fruit and Veggie Dominoes Matching Game, Hape’s Stacking Veggie Game, and Hape’s Bamboo Quattro Game.
Encouraging musical play helps to develop verbal, motor, memory, and social skills. The Toy Tot Drum, Toy Banjo, Magical Sound Flute, and Mr. Tambourine that we offer are fun, interactive, and engaging ways to help instill in kids a lifelong love of music.
Inspiring little artists is important, too. There’s no need to worry about asbestos with our selection of safe arts and crafts supplies, which includes Organic Beeswax Stick Crayons, Veggie Baby Finger Paint, and Kids’ Veggie Sidewalk Chalk.
It’s possible the CDC will be issuing another warning this holiday season regarding plastic toys and lead—a scary thought indeed—but if you stick to transparent, sustainable, and nontoxic brands, you can forget those worries and play on.
Toni Becker is a part-time content creator at Rodale’s. She is also the personal chef, event planner, chauffeur, and best of all playmate to her young daughter. Her family of three lives in the woods where she finds time to write, cook anything she can from scratch, garden, and build her case of why she needs goats.
Some content in this article was adapted from Rodale Wellness.