Ecoholic
Now Magazine
By Adria Vasil
 
Are mainstream toys finally safe?
When you’re addicted to the planet
 
Q: Are mainstream toys finally safe?
 
A: As much as you want the kids in your life playing with, say, natural, recycled wood blocks, chances are their wish lists are topped by a Nintendo 3DS or Let’s Rock! Elmo. When that’s the case, are you in the clear to go mainstream?
 
The scene has certainly shifted since 2007, the Year of the Recall. For one thing, we’ve had a Consumer Product Safety Act for about six months. That means the federal government finally has the power to yank unsafe toys, cribs, sporting goods and certain other products from store shelves.
Until then, the feds could only ask nicely that manufacturers pull a faulty rattle or lead-tainted train off shelves. Speaking of that notorious neurotoxin, tougher lead limits were brought in at this time last year, though Gideon Forman of Canadian Physicians for the Environment says that allowing any lead is galling and unnecessary.
 
I’ve got to say Canadian Physicians for the Environment has noted that the revised regs don’t go far enough.
 
The good news is that independent toy safety testers are reporting that levels of the brain-damaging toxin seem to have dropped off in recent years. But don’t cross lead off your naughty list entirely. In its 26th annual toy safety report released last month, U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) noted that while “great strides in toy safety” have been made, lead continues to be a problem in some toys.
 
Two toys exceeded Canada’s old 600 parts per million (ppm) lead standard (Little Hands Love touch-and-feel book and Whirly Wheel light toy), and three others tanked our year-old 90 ppm lead limit (including a Tinkerbell Watch and Hello Kitty eyeshadow/keychain). A couple of others flunked the American Academy of Pediatrics-recommended 40 ppm lead level cap for toys.
 
Also new to the toy world this year, Canada at long last implemented new phthalate regs targeting six of the hormone-disrupting plastic softeners. Three of the six are now restricted in all kids’ toys, and three others are curbed in toys and childcare items likely to be mouthed by young children.
Though the U.S. brought in similar restrictions on phthalates a couple of years earlier, U.S. PIRG still found a few kids’ items that tested off the charts for ridiculously high phthalate levels in 2011 (Joking Around Funny Glasses and a girl’s sleep mask from Claire’s).
 
Probably the biggest remaining worry in toy stores this year, says Environmental Defence, is cadmium. Despite a lot of huffing and puffing by the feds, Health Canada’s restriction on cadmium in kids’ jewellery is still only a guideline. ED’s Erin Charter says it’s best to steer clear of kids’ jewellery altogether at this point. But children’s charms and necklaces aren’t the only cadmium concern.
 
When the California-based Ecology Centre released its 2010 screening report on 200 of the most popular toys, 48 per cent had problematic levels of the heavy metal.
 
Amongst the items that tested positive for high cadmium were Ice Age and Dora the Explorer backpacks, a stuffed Eeyore Pook-a-Looz, boots, belts, boxing gloves, bobby pins, Ts, erasers and rainbow lip gloss. For a full breakdown of those results, head to healthystuff.org.
 
All this is to say that while laws are tightening and toxic toy hazards are improving, it’s still always best, whenever possible, to buy explicitly eco-friendly toys that are, ideally, made in Canada or the U.S.
 
Support local independent toy stores like the Toy Space on Bathurst, Scooter Girl on Roncy, Little Peeps in Leslieville, Treasure Island on Danforth and Playful Minds on St. Clair West and ask for a tour of all their kid-and-planet-friendly toys.
Some stores even specialize exclusively in earth-conscious fun, including 100 Mile Child (the100milechild.ca) and virtual boutique Littlefootprintstoys.com.
 
Specialty green shops like Grassroots (grassrootsstore.com) and Ecoxistence (ecoexistence.ca) also carry good selections of safe and sustainable kids’ gifts. If you’re still going with mainstream toys, though, you can stay on top of current Health Canada recalls at healthycanadians.gc.ca. The site even has a Recalls and Safety Alerts app – perfect for staying informed while you’re trawling toy store aisles.