Wood or bamboo toys. Wooden playthings typically don’t contain any chemical-filled plastics. Bonus points if the wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which means it came from a sustainably managed forest. Toys made from bamboo also don’t contribute to deforestation. Plus, their harvesting process creates little to no emissions, making them healthy toys for your baby and the planet. While these playthings aren’t plentiful in the big stores, specialty shops carry them, and they’re pretty easy to find online.
Lead. It’s hard to believe how many playthings could contain lead and even harder to fathom just how much lead can be hiding beneath that innocent surface. Some recalled playthings (check recall lists on CPSC.gov (the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s site) have double the legal lead limit, and lead poisoning is serious — it can lead to kidney damage, learning and growth delays, and more. Amazingly, nearly one decade ago one-third of imported toys tested in the US reportedly had medium to high levels of lead, cadmium, mercury, and other potentially dangerous chemicals. Some good news: Most toy stores have booted potentially poisonous playthings that contain lead, and Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which greatly reduced lead content (and other dangerous substances) from kids’ toys.
Plastic toys from China. Chinese-made toys came under attack a few years ago for having high levels of lead paint — and more than nine million of them were recalled. Because China’s product quality control isn’t as strict as it is in the US, it’s smart to steer clear of toys made in China. To ease your mind, many toy stores have lists of “Toys Not Made in China” that you can check out before you buy. Or check the recall list online before you toss a toy in your (virtual) cart.
PVC (polyvinyl chloride). This widely used plastic often contains harmful chemicals, including such known carcinogens as vinyl chloride, dioxin and phthalates, which are linked to asthma, allergies, and reproductive problems. And PVC can be pretty common in toys. One way to tell: PVC-free playthings are usually labeled, so if the toy isn’t sporting a “PVC-free” label or it has a #3 or the letters “PVC” on the bottom, stay away (a #1, #2, or #4 is fine, though).