What to do about toxic toys

10:15 PM, Jun 7, 2009   |    comments
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USA TODAY asked experts how parents can avoid hormone-like chemicals in children's products.

Q: What are the major types of hormone-like chemicals in plastic?

A: Two in the news: bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. In April, Canada proposed banning BPA, commonly used in polycarbonate baby bottles and the linings of formula cans. Last week, Congress passed legislation to ban several phthalates in toys for children under 12. The ban will take effect six months after being signed by the president, who is expected to do so in the next week or so, according to the White House. Chemical-makers say the chemicals have been used safely for decades. Studies have suggested the chemicals can affect the reproductive system.

Q: Can people completely avoid these chemicals?

A: Maybe not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have detected BPA and phthalates in virtually everyone they have tested.

Q: What can people do to reduce contact with phthalates until the law takes effect?

A: Environment California suggests looking for phthalate-free plastics labeled PVC-free or marked with the recycling codes #1, #2 or #5. PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, often made with phthalates.

If parents are worried about plastic teething rings, they can fall back on the old standards of letting babies suck on cold, wet cloths or fabric teethers, says pediatrician Alan Greene, author of Raising Baby Green. Denise and Alan Fields, authors of Baby Bargains, also recommend frozen celery stalks or frozen mini-bagels.

The Fields recommend fragrance-free shampoos because phthalates are often used in fragrances.

Blogs rating the chemical contents of toys include healthytoys.org, not4myhouse.com, zrecs.blogspot.com and squidoo.com/saferbabyteethers.

Toymakers that have phased out PVC include Brio, Sassy, Chicco, Evenflo, Gerber, International Playthings, Lamaze Infant Development, Lego and Tiny Love, according to a 2003 report card from Greenpeace.

About half the toys tested last year by healthytoys.org, a website sponsored by the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Ecology Center, were made with PVC.

The Toy Industry Association disputes those findings and takes issue with the site's tests.

Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center says there's good news: In testing thousands of products this year, Gearhart found less PVC used in toys and car seats.

Wal-Mart and Toys R Us say they are phasing out phthalates in toys by the end of the year.

Q: Can people reduce exposure to BPA?

A: Most makers of baby bottles offer new, BPA-free alternatives. They include: BornFree, Adiri, Avent, Dr. Brown's, Gerber, Playtex, Evenflo, Especially for Baby, Luv N Care and Sassy, according to Kathleen Waugh of Toys R Us, which also is phasing out BPA. Companies that make BPA-free sippy cups include Munchkin Inc., Boon Inc. and Learning Curve, Waugh says. CamelBak and Nalgene also make BPA-free sports bottles.

Many BPA-free bottles cost more than traditional bottles, manufacturers say, because the chemical substitutes are more expensive. The Fields also recommend glass bottles. They suggest avoiding plastic marked with a #7 recycling code, the category that includes BPA.

USA Today

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