Every magazine and website I turn to these days seems to have a top 10 list of toys to buy for kids this holiday season. There are tons of great toys on the market, but there are also tons of toys you might want to avoid. Here's how to spot and avoid the three biggest dangers lurking on toy shelves this holiday season:
1. Lead and cadmium. Lead and cadmium have both been found to damage the nervous system and developing brains of young children. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) sets the lead limit at 300 ppm for toys, yet every year there is another list of toy recalls for toys that made it to the shelves that exceeded that limit. With all of the attention focused on lead, cadmium suddenly started appearing in toys, but it is likely no safer than the alternative.
Bottom line: Be wary of toys with metal or brightly colored paint, particularly those not made in the U.S. The majority of recalled toys for lead and cadmium in recent years have come from China.
2. Phthalates. I have written post after post after post about the potential adverse health effects of phthalates. The CPSIA permanently banned three phthalates in toys and set temporary limits on three others until further studies could be completed. No toy or product for children can contain more than 1,000 ppm of each of the six phthalates. Yet a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group called Trouble in Toyland found toys that laboratory testing showed to contain 42,000 ppm and 77,000 ppm levels of phthalates. That's way over the CPSIA limit.
Bottom line: Steer clear of plastic toys with recycling codes 3 and 7 that are more likely to contain BPA or phthalates. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. And don't buy toys that use a "fragrance" and may use phthalates in their formula.
3. Chokables. This is one from way back in Baby Rearing 101. Keep small objects away from babies and toddlers. More children die each year from choking on balloons, balls, marbles and small toy accessories than anything else when it comes to toy dangers. So a reminder is always good, particularly in years when the most popular toys have small parts — ever heard of a Squinky?
Bottom line: Keep toys with small parts away from babies and toddlers under the age of 3.