“Theoretically, all toys are supposed to be non-toxic… but obviously, from all the recalls we’ve seen over the last few years, we know that isn’t true,” said Katie Field, owner of Little Ants store (www.littleants.com) that specializes in non-toxic and eco-friendly items for babies and young children ranging from diapers to toys.
Field says you can’t always trust the labels: the label may say non-toxic but unless the toy maker adheres by the standards, it isn’t. “That’s what was happening in China,” says Field. “In one case, the company in China was given the parts and the paint, they just had to assemble it. But when they received a big order that was going direct to the store instead of to the toy company who could inspect it, the non-toxic paint was replaced with a cheaper lead-based paint. And the good paint was sold on the black market.”
Now that rules and regulations have gotten stricter on lead, Field says she is worried about cadmium, the chemical element responsible for the recent jewelry and McDonald’s Shrek glasses recalls. “Cadmium is much harder to detect than lead,” said Field. “But, like lead, it is toxic and can be very dangerous.”
Field says that what she looks for when looking for toys for her own children, she has 4 ages 8 months to 8 years old, is simplicity and for the most part – wood.
“Kids can chew on a stick and be OK … as long as that stick wasn’t heavily sprayed with chemicals while in the forest,” says Field. So another word, even that which looks natural may not be so in the wrong hands.”
“Most toy recalls come from China,” said Field, “or at least the ones that have to deal with being toxic or having lead in the paint. Toy manufacturers in other countries have had recalls but more often than not it is because of a part breaking off and causing a choking hazard or something. Worldwide, Germany has the most strict guidelines and regulations when it comes to toys – so I usually feel pretty confident when I get a toy made there – if it is good enough for the Germans, it is probably good enough for my kids.”
With babies, you can figure everything is going to end up in the mouth, says Field. For baby toys and teething rings, Field likes items made of wood which is either unfinished or coated with beeswax oil or a non-toxic stain.
“Beeswax is fairly safe,” says Field. “It helps the wood so it doesn’t splinter and it keeps the baby’s saliva from sinking into the wood and helps keep away a germ and bacteria problem. Non-toxic stain is another good alternative to look for. It is harder to add things to stain, stain has to remain thin and it is made to soak into the wood and not sit on top where it can be chipped off.”
Look for wooden toys that are made from solid wood rather than pressed wood or particleboard. Pressed wood and particleboard often use glues that can give off toxins.
If you are going plastic and your baby is at the building stage, Legos are made from a non-toxic plastic.
Despite what the commercials tell you your baby doesn’t need or necessarily want all the bells and whistles. “They are happy with simple things,” says Field. “A wooden spoon and a pot make a good drum set. Add a bit of flour to measuring cups and spoons: it will be a bit messy but your toddler will have fun for a long time.”