Kids love and need toys; they nurture growth in so many ways and continue to do so throughout their entire childhood. Toys can be used to stimulate their minds, aid in social interaction, and provide mental stimulation. When purchasing toys and other play items for our children, we normally look for a few different things in regards to child safety. Choking is often the first thing we think about when picking out a new toy for our kids. Sharp edges, removable pieces, and breakable parts are all areas of concern, but there are other dangers that can be hiding in toys. When reviewing your kids’ new toys, what we normally don’t think of, is what these toys are made of.
Toys sold in the United States are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which oversees most, if not all, of our consumer products—including regulating federal standards for toys. Toys intended for children ages 12 years and younger must be tested by a third-party and certified as safe from toxic chemicals. Some of the banned chemicals you may have heard of include lead, mercury, chromium, and arsenic, but did you know that some toys being manufactured outside of the United States have been found to contain asbestos—another prohibited toxic material?
What is Asbestos & How Is It Linked to Toys?
Asbestos is a toxic mineral made up of microscopic fibers. It was widely used until the late 1970s for strengthening and fireproofing certain building materials such as concrete, insulation, roofing tiles, and car parts. However, it has been found in paper products, plastics, and talcum powder that some children’s products contain. Asbestos fibers are tiny and while they are harmless when left alone, once disrupted or broken down, they can be inhaled, swallowed, and adhere to cloth materials such as clothing, sofas, and car interiors. This can lead to future health issues for you and your children.
Once asbestos fibers enter the body, they cause inflammation and irritation to cells and DNA, damaging the linings of organs over time. In fact, effects from asbestos exposure can take anywhere from 10 to 40 years to show and for symptoms to arise. Exposure to asbestos has the potential to cause a number of diseases—particularly asbestosis (lung disease), mesothelioma (cancer of the mesothelial tissue), and other asbestos-related cancers such as lung, ovarian, and laryngeal cancer.
The good news is that in 1989 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited the use of asbestos in most new products being manufactured after that time, so why do we still need to be concerned if we can just throw away any products we have that were made before the 1980s? The simple answer is that not every toy and children’s product is manufactured in the United States. With the convenience of online shopping today and dollar stores popping up in every corner, retailers from around the world can easily sell their goods to more people with ease. What this means for us is that we are inadvertently purchasing products from countries where asbestos use is not regulated.
Which Types of Toys Could Have Asbestos?
The Environmental Working Group Action Fund (EWG) regularly runs independent testing and throughout the past years, has continued to find asbestos in various children’s products—including play makeup kits,, baby powder, children’s crime lab kits, and even certain brands of crayons. The common denominator for asbestos being found in these children’s products is due to the talc that is used to make these items.
Talc is mined from underground deposits and is a mineral found in clay. It is known for its softness, which makes it useful for a wide variety of children’s products. Crayons are one example, but this also includes eye shadow and face powder in toy makeup kits, along with baby powders that were once marketed for diaper rash and trouble spots. The problem is that during the mining of talc, asbestos is also found underground and its veins can often be found in talc deposits—leading to cases of cross-contamination.
Once products are found to have asbestos, they are almost always pulled from shelves and discontinued right away, but with online thrift shopping, apps to buy and trade used items, and good old fashioned yard sales, you may still come across hazardous children’s products that have been banned and removed from the market, but sellers are unaware and still had them in their homes.
A reference guide published from Asbestos Nation, part of the EWG Action Fund, is available online as a great resource that lists children’s products found to have asbestos in them. Check this list if buying any used children’s products or better yet, to do a clean sweep of what you may already have lying around in your own playroom or craft corner. Parting with old toys is a good practice anyways, here are some different ways you can get rid of old toys that might be laying around.
How to Find Non-Toxic Toys
Now that we know what not to buy for our children’s playtime, what should we be looking for when shopping for new toys? The short answer is to look for children’s products that are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Avoid toys with PVC (commonly found in squeeze toys, dolls, and inflatables), products that are painted (may contain lead), and any talc-based products that may contain asbestos like the ones mentioned above, but also including sidewalk chalk and bath bombs.
Look for products that are “green” and eco-friendly. Remember that young children put almost everything in their mouths and aside from buying larger objects that they cannot choke on, we need to make sure that what they are playing with is 100% safe. This includes looking for:
- Wooden toys that are made of completely natural wood with no paint or decals on them;
- Plush and soft cloth toys that are ideally organic and made without dyes, chemicals, or pesticides;
- Natural rubber; and
- Items finished with non-toxic and water-based paints and/or dyes.
As you continue your search for new, safe toys, be sure to know how to read a toy’s label. Knowing how to read a label will allow you to make smarter decisions when buying a new toy for your kids.
It is imperative that we stay informed and know what materials our children’s toys and play products are made of. Remember that as the parent, you are your child’s safety advocate. It doesn’t matter what others buy their kids or if yours are mad that they didn’t get a toy they really wanted. What matters is that you are keeping them safe to live a long, happy, and healthy life. Always trust your instinct and if you feel a toy has the potential to cause your child harm, then don’t let them have it. It’s only out of love and they will understand someday.