How to Know When Toys are Toxic

Want to know if your child’s toys are safe? From plastics containing PVC, phthalates, and other chemicals to the choking hazards presented by small parts, toys can be dangerous for our kids. Get the facts on chemicals to avoid, plus tips on how to shop for non-toxic toys.


ABC toyWhen buying new toys, here’s what to avoid:

PVC: The manufacture of PVC releases toxins into the air and water called dioxins, which enter the food chain and contaminate food sources. What’s more, two additives in PVC make it demonized in the environmental world — lead and phthalates.

Lead: even in the teensiest amounts, can impair brain development.

Phthalates: These ubiquitous chemicals are used to soften hard plastic. Phthalates have been linked to premature birth, early onset of puberty in girls, reduced sperm quality in males, and reproductive defects.

Bisphenol A: This hormone-disrupting chemical has been linked to Down syndrome, early onset of puberty, cancers, and a host of other conditions.

PBDEs (polybrominated diphenylethers): The purpose of these is to slow the spread of fire in many consumer products. But their use in baby products poses a threat to developing bodies and brains.


And plastic toys aren’t the only ones that threaten to poison playtime. Stuffed toys are frequently full of synthetics or pesticide-soaked cottons. PVC is often used for the eyes and noses of stuffed animals.

However, since manufacturers aren’t required to label products as containing toxic chemicals, and there’s an increasing influx of toys from China and other Asian countries that have no regulations around this, parents without a PhD in biochemistry are left puzzled. What’s more, in response to consumer concern, some manufacturers are labelling toys “phthalate free”. But according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the federal government doesn’t regulate the use of this label or ensure its accuracy. The PIRG commissioned its own test and found that of eight toys labelled phthalate free, six tested positive for detectable levels of phthalates.


When toy shopping, consider these tips:

—Do the smell test. Toxic softeners in plastic often have that “beach ball” smell. Strong fragrances and perfumes can provoke allergies or asthma.

—Lean toward products that are fair-made from natural materials: organic cotton-stuffed animals and wooden blocks, for example.

—Can you safely buy the product used? Dollhouses and building sets frequently stand the test of time.

—Shop locally: Craft fairs can offer up some wonderful, hand-made toys and the chance to speak with the craftsperson about the materials used.

—Antique toys or imported toys might contain lead in the paint. You can test for lead in toys by purchasing a Lead Check Swabs kit — from Lowe’s, Home Depot or at your local hardware store.  However, be aware that none of the at-home testing kits is considered100 percent reliable.

—Give your business to companies that have pledged responsibility, such as Plan Toys, Haba, Brio, Chicco, Discovery Toys and Lego.

—Create a costume box filled with clothes gathered from closets or Goodwill. Just be sure not to include costume jewelry containing lead.

—To keep on top of the latest recalls, visit: