5 Ways to Avoid Toxic Gifts that Could Harm Your Child

Flickr/Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka/CC BY 2.0

Although we lack the fur and claws, when our kids are in danger we turn into raging mama (and papa) bears quicker than Diana Prince can spin into her Wonder Woman suit. We coddle them, teach them, shield them, and may even singlehandedly pull cars off of our children if the occasion calls for it – it’s our deepest instinct to protect the cubs. But then we turn around and unwittingly shower them with toxins that lurk in the very gifts we buy to make them happy. Oh, the irony!

So this holiday season, and from hereon in general, be your best parental bear and avoid these five toxic pitfalls that befall many an item made for kids.

1. Avoid Lead-Laden Faux Leather

Purses, wallets, backpacks and other plastic accessories are often made with polyvinyl chloride which is commonly stabilized with lead. Bad, toxic, poison-y lead.

Even though organizations like the Center for Environmental Health have been working to eliminate the threat from lead-tainted accessories, their recent testing shows that the some stores (especially certain retailers, like Forever 21) are still offering many lead-tainted products. Lead is a nasty toxin, and even minimal exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. To protect your kids’ developing bodies and brains, avoid soft plastic, faux-leather, accessories -- and especially bright yellow and red ones.

2. Avoid Toys Full of Phthalates

Flickr/bbaltimore/CC BY 2.0

Gone are the days of wooden toys, today plastic is king. And how unfortunate, as plastic commonly comes with its evil sidekick, phthalates. Often called plasticizers, phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break. This class of chemicals has been linked to hormone-disrupting health problems like infertility, abnormal reproductive development, and others.

A growing group of retailers are promising to eliminate or reduce the use of phthalate-harboring plastics in products meant for kids, but there are still plenty of products out there that contain them. One recent study examined 20 children’s back-to-school products that included Disney, Spider-Man and Dora the Explorer branded supplies like vinyl lunch boxes, backpacks, three-ring binders, raincoats and rain boots. They found that 75 percent of the products had elevated levels of phthalates.

3. Avoid Poisoned Bling

Flickr/Melissa Maples/CC BY 2.0

If it’s cheap, you can probably assume that those glittering bangles and doodads probably aren’t made from the purest of ores and gems. And in fact, a comprehensive study reported in Time Magazine revealed that 59 percent of costume jewelry sold at national chains like Walmart, Kohl’s, Forever 21, H&M, and Target, contained one or more chemicals considered by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to be a hazard to human health.

Of 99 pieces of jewelry analyzed, 27 percent contained greater than the 300 parts-per-million (ppm) limit for lead set by CPSC for use by children, and 13 percent contained greater than 100 ppm of arsenic, which has been linked to bladder, kidney, lung, liver and prostate cancers. Also, cadmium -- a toxic metal used in plating and in making batteries -- which can build up in the kidneys and impair kidney function and contribute to reproductive abnormalities and lung cancer.

4. Avoid Killer Art and Craft Supplies

Flickr/MyTudut/CC BY 2.0

Some glues, acrylic paints and solvents, pigments, and permanent markers release volatile organic compounds or contain carcinogens. Art is not for the faint of heart!

The Art and Creative Materials Institute recommends looking for ACMI Seals to ensure that the product has been evaluated by a qualified toxicologist for both acute and chronic hazards. Or look for other signs that the product conforms to ASTM D 4236, the chronic hazard labeling standard that is now part of the U.S. labeling law. Especially for kids, purchase only products with the ACMI AP Non-Toxic Seal.

5. Avoid Sickening Sweets

Flickr/Panic01 /CC BY 2.0

There are two sides of the chocolate coin when it comes to holiday confections. One side is the frenzied rampant joy for the flood of cookies, candy canes, chocolate Santas and fruitcake (well, for some). The other side is the ghastly effects of high-fructose corn syrup, synthetic colors, GMO ingredients, excessive sugar, a dusting of pesticides, and the god-awful labor conditions of non fair-trade sugar and cocoa farming. Look for all-natural treats made with organic ingredients and from fair-trade friendly manufacturers.

For alternative suggestions and ways to get around other toxins in the marketplace, see the Center for Environmental Health's Toxic-Free Guide to the Holidays and check out our holiday gift guide, Green Gift Guide 2012.

Tags: Gift Guides | Gifts | GMO | Plastics | Shopping | Toxins | Toys