The Untold Truth About Plastic Toys

Are those plastic toys your kid can't keep out of their mouth actually safe?

The International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), an organization that works to "achieve a toxic-free future where chemical production, use and disposal does not harm people and the environment," warns that many toys—including kids' character slippers, of all things—contain dangerous levels of toxins.

Even worse, these chemicals are particularly toxic to children.

Describing the Toxins

IPEN releases an annual Toxic Toy Store Catalogue that satirically boasts about chemicals found in common children's toys from around the globe. In particular, the catalogue highlights the disconcerting presence of short chain chlorinated paraffins or SCCPs.

To break down the jargon, according to an April 2017 report by IPEN, SCCPs are "industrial chemicals primarily used in metalworking but also as flame retardants and softeners in plastics." IPEN identifies SCCPs as toxic industrial chemicals that should be prohibited in the manufacture of children's toys.

In an attempt to avoid bombarding you with a list of chemical acronyms, we won't get into too many specific details about dangerous chemical strains, but at least two of them, octaBDE and decaBDE, have been earmarked for global elimination by the Stockholm Convention, as noted in a separate IPEN report.

Unfortunately, many of these hazardous SCCPs are common in recycled plastics originally used in electronics. And while recycling plastics may sound like a good idea at first, when you learn that these products are being turned into children's toys, the feasibility of eco-consciousness becomes even more complicated that it already is.

Toxic Presence

IPEN's report recommends prohibiting SCCPs in children's toys. It reports that these elements are "widely present in products favored by children including Mickey Mouse slippers, jump ropes, balls, and plastic ducks."

The study also found that a hand blender commonly used to prepare baby food leaked SCCPs.

What dangers do these chemicals present?

All of these chemicals are "very difficult to degrade in the environment and our bodies, which negatively affects the nervous system and reproduction," IPEN reports in its satirical toy catalogue. "What’s more, they are endocrine disruptors," which means the compounds have the potential to disrupt hormonal balance in the body.

Of course, hormonal balance is extremely important when it comes to the growth and development of happy, healthy children. The bottom line? Young people are particularly vulnerable to these dangerous substances.

Eliminating Toxins in Toys

Andreas Buser, a chemical science officer with the Swiss government, told parenting website Fatherly that pollutants like SCCPs “need to be eliminated from the recycling streams as quickly as possible to avoid them from being in circulation for an extended period.”

"While recycling saves resources and energy," IPEN concludes in their Toxic Toy Catalogue, "recycling materials that contain [hazardous toxins] only further contaminates the environment, and such practices undermine the benefits of recycling."

What Concerned Consumers Can Do

Another parenting website, MightyNest, has a number of helpful suggestions for avoiding toxic toys and getting them out of your home.

"Try to avoid [purchasing] soft plastic toys." This proactive step can keep children from being exposed to dangerous toys in the first place.

If you suspect a child is already playing with risky toys, "Focus on phasing out plastic and cheap metal/painted toys that are of concern starting with the ones that always seem to end up in your little one’s mouth. Beware – things could get ugly during this phase."

Finally, when shopping for toys, "Look for products made with solid wood (not pressed wood), wool, organic cotton, or stainless steel and that are colored with water-based dyes or non-toxic paints," MightyNest suggests.

The risks to children growing up today are varied and sometimes unexpected. Government entities may not agree on what to do about eliminating product-related risks to children and families, but ultimately if parents and caregivers are mindful of what children are given to play with (and put in their mouths!), playtime can be safer and more fun.

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