It is a parent’s worst nightmare. The sirens whir as your formerly happy and healthy child is rushed to the emergency room – the sudden victim of some unknown illness. As the seconds tick by nervously, the paramedics tell you that it looks like an asthma attack or respiratory distress caused by an allergic reaction to some kind of chemical. You know you are careful, and you rack you brains for what could your child have been exposed to?
The situation is made that much more insidious as you later come to find out that the source of the toxin could very well have been your child’s own toys!
The above scenario is scary, and not so farfetched. Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, also more commonly known simply as vinyl – is all around us. It is a common ingredient in the manufacture of many plastic items from pipes to your vinyl siding – and unfortunately, in many plastic toys. Not all plastic is made of PVC, and not all plastic toys contain PVC. But PVC is the plastic that raises the most health concerns because of the chemicals within it. PVC contains a number of chemicals that are known to be toxic to humans. However the two main baddies are:
- Phthalates: This is a chemical known as a “plasticizer.” It is used to make PVC a rigid plastic more flexible and “rubbery”. Unfortunately for that reason it is commonly used in toys such as “rubber” ducks, teethers, and other baby toys. Phthalates have been linked to many health problems, primarily asthma, cancer, hormonal dysfunction, development delays and learning disabilities, and damage to the reproductive system especially in young boys.
- Dioxins: Dioxin is created during the manufacturing process of PVC. Dioxin is one of the most toxic and harmful chemicals we are currently exposed to in our environment. Dioxin exposure has been linked to damage and cancer of the neurological, reproductive, developmental, and hormonal systems.
A published report released in 2007 by the Washington Toxics Coalition entitled, Not So Squeaky Clean – A Study of Phthalates in Toys found that almost half of the toys tested in their study – bought randomly at area stores – tested positive for phthalates. Toys with phthalates included dolls, squeeze toys, animal figurines, a Tinkertoys component, and a ball. The report stated, “In many cases, phthalates make up a large proportion of the total content of the product: six of the toys we tested were made of between 28% and 47% phthalates.”
So What’s a Parent to Do About Plastics?
So how do you ensure your kids can have some PVC free fun? Well one way is to avoid plastic toys entirely and go with wood or other organic alternatives. Such products can be purchased from companies such as: Brio, Lamaze, Melissa & Doug, Thomas and Woodkits.
However, there are several ways to spot and identify toys that contain PVC. In the US for recycling purposes, by law, every plastic product must be imprinted with the type of plastic it is made of. You just need to know how to decipher these industry codes. Look for the Triangle formed by the “Chasing Arrows” of the recycle symbol. Within it there will be either a number or letters. For PVC you will see “PVC”, or just a “V” or the number “3.” These marks mean it is a poison plastic best avoided.
If there is no mark, it was not manufactured in the US or to specific US standard, and should also be avoided, not only because it likely uses phthalate laden PVC, but probably lead paint and other nastiness as well.
Many toy manufacturers and retailers have responded to parents concerns about PVC in toys, and are taking it upon themselves to sell only “PVC Free” toys and to label them as such. Manufactures who have committed to PVC free plastics include: Chicco, Evenflo, Gerber, International Playthings (including Primetime and Early Start), Lego, Sassy, Thomas and Tiny Love.