Thursday, October 30, 2008

Buyer beware: Unsafe plastic toys are still on sale.

What's in this duck, and why is he smiling?

Over breakfast this morning I was catching up on my reading. There in the Personal Journal section of the October 23rd edition of the Wall Stree Journal was this headline: Toys Containing Banned Plastics Still on Market: Restrictions on Phthalates Don't Take Effect Until '09; Fears of Reproductive Defects.

My first thought was "are you freaking kidding?" But no, they are not. Here are the highlights:

"In February, 25,000 rubber ducks in Craig Wolfe's inventory will be illegal to sell because they contain chemicals called phthalates, which some studies indicate harm early childhood development.

So the toy maker is liquidating what he can, discounting stock to stores that can place big orders. He hasn't destroyed the novelty ducks, he says, because he believes phthalates are safe. "We've never had any problems," he says.The flood of ducks hitting the market now, along with other toys that contain phthalates, is an unintended consequence of a law aimed at avoiding potential hazards precisely like this one. Last summer, after a spate of recalls, Congress overhauled the mandate of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government's consumer watchdog agency, and ushered in big changes like tougher manufacturing standards for all-terrain vehicles and new limits on lead."

Huh? The toys have been declared unsafe so lets put them all on sale?

Ecoleeko Seahorse, made of organic cotton/hemp corduroy and bamboo fleece with natural kapok stuffing

The article continues: "Three types of phthalates, chemical additives that render hard plastics flexible, will be banned from children's toys and child-care products starting Feb. 10, while three other types of phthalates will be temporarily prohibited from child-care products and toys that can be placed in a child's mouth.

Consumer advocates complain that the law has ended up sanctioning a grace period that allows toy makers to sell off soon-to-be banned toys, rather than forcing them to dispose of them. "This holiday season is going to be 'buyer beware,'" says Elizabeth Hitchcock of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Consumers will see "toys marked down at a discount without knowing that they contain a substance that will be banned in February," says Ms. Hitchcock. That could "present a tremendous danger," she says, because the lower prices will be all the more appealing to shoppers during an economic downturn.

The outcome has frustrated even members of Congress who passed the law. "The effective date was meant to give the CPSC time to implement its new mandates, not to encourage fire sales in toy stores across the country," says Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D., Ill.). A CPSC spokeswoman said Congress didn't deem phthalates unsafe, but had only banned future sales.

Once omnipresent in plastic toys, phthalates have been used in everything from action figures to vinyl inner tubes. But the industrial chemicals began to fall out of favor after a number of studies linked them to genital development problems in rodents, a finding eventually correlated to human infants."

Read the entire article here.

Organic Cotton, made-in-the-US Bath Buddy. Not quite a rubber duckie, but pretty darn fun!

What you can do:
1. Throw away all plastic toys that you are unsure of, especially the soft toys, like rubber duckies, soft read-in-the-tub baby books and other toys intended for infants and toddlers. Also affected: plastic baby bottles and teething rings. Throw them away, do NOT donate them, for all of the obvious reasons. I know this is HARD - we are all looking for ways to save money, not simply throw it away. But what is the health of children worth? More than the few dollars saved.

Food grade, BPA-free stainless steel Klean Kanteen with non-leaching, toxic free Advent sippy spout.

2. Examine the packaging. Look for toys, bottles and teething rings with labels on packaging that state they are lead and phthalate-free. Products produced in Europe (not subcontracted out to China) are often your best bet. And if stuff is on sale? Drastically reduced? Wonder why, and read the fine print. If the packaging does not say phthalate or lead-free, it most likely is not. The product is on sale because it has been dumped by the manufacturer, trying to recoup his investment at the risk of your child's health.

3. Opt for toys made with other materials, such as latex or silicone, both of which are resilient, easy to clean and satisfying to sore gums for mouthy.

4. Cut yourself some slack. It's tough fighting the plastic machine. And I've heard from moms all over that their kids want plastic, and only plastic. Fergit those foofy European toys! Sigh. All we can do is try. And try again. When it comes to kids and plastic, Yoda got it wrong ("Do or do not: There is no try"). You're doing a great job.

Laundry Day stringing toy from German toymaker Haba. Waldorf approved and made to stringent EU environmental standards.

Additional Resources:

US Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recall Page

Parents Magazine Biggest Toy Recalls of 2008

Safe toys are available. This one, made in Vermont of sustainably harvested Vermont maple, and has no finish at all.

If you have any question or further resources, please let me know!

1 comment:

  1. state the issues, share solutions, really awesome post alline

    most alarming is the reduced prices and liquidation of ...without the warning about harm

    sortof like the maraschino food dye banned ions ago - manufacturers can sell until supplies run out - hmmmm did they mass produce them enough to last forever ?


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