Yes, I'm writing about toys again. And I'll probably do it again and again until there are better regulations or until so many items are tested by legit third party organizations that it becomes crystal clear what parents can feel comfortable buying and bringing home.
I was interviewing a well-known pediatrician who is very involved with environmental health issues last week for a magazine article I'm writing. When the subject turned to toys, he suggested the only thing that was truly safe is unpainted wooden toys, or sports equipment. I can certainly find some issues with the latter (there are so many PVC balls out there) but I've heard the former over and over again. Including from Libby McDonald, author of the recently published tome, The Toxic Sandbox: The Truth About Environmental Toxins and Our Children's Health.
When I get off these phone interviews I walk to the area where I keep my two-year-old's toys and put my head in my hands. I have done everything to keep this kid away from as many chemical contaminants as I possibly can. There is literally not a single plastic toy in this house. (Except for the special ones we use to coerce her into the car we live in New York City and rarely, rarely drive so she hates it and these are kept on an out-of-reach high shelf.)
But almost everything is painted wood. It mainly comes from very reputable sources companies that have had no recalls or that have kept their production in Europe (especially Germany their safety standards seem to be among the strictest). Nothing we own is actually on Healthytoys.org, but other items from our toys' makers have scored well there. But still. I worry. The long term effects of the hormone disrupters in plastic are still unclear, but lead's impact couldn't be clearer. The idea I could be lovingly offering her a neurotoxin here, sweetie, have fun! is beyond disturbing.
I'm a big proponent of not bringing much into our apartment, especially the extraneous items. The more stuff we bring in, the more potential there is for something not great to make it's way into my green bubble. But between the holidays and my daughter's second birthday earlier this month, her formerly well-curated and small toy collection has multiplied. It seems like 10-times over. There's a new easel with a white erase and chalkboard components she'll likely never use (still looking for nontoxic markers and chalk I trust) and what I'm sure is offgassing fiberboard. I use painted wood-covered magnets to secure (recycled) paper on it and she draws with colored pencils. There's also a hardwood doll bed her grandmother got her from Ikea. The bottom of the bed is fiberboard, which concerns me even though Ikea swears up and down (via customer service rep emails) they use German and Finnish standards to dictate the formaldehyde-containing glue levels in said board. It smells funny to me. There's also an adorable bowling game from another grandmother painted wooden pins with faces and hats, with painted wood balls to knock the hats off. She likes to put the hats in her mouth. One of the balls is already chipping. I'm grimacing.
But before I delve further into my newfound paranoia and insanity about an area I thought I had mastered/ figured out/ conquered/ whatever you want to call it, I'll move on. The Toy Fair was in town last week at the enormous Javitz Center. I was there as New York Magazine's Kids Editor, one of the many unpainted, non-wood hats I wear. There were plenty of big name companies there and I, of course, ran around asking as many people as I could about their production facilities, their safety measures, their paint. The answers were beyond vague. But I didn't walk out of there depressed because I was overwhelmed in a good way by the tremendous amount of nontoxic offerings. Woo hoo!
To begin with, all journalists were greeted with "organic press totes" from a new company called IdBids. They launched eco-friendly toys at the Fair, all meant to "teach children iddy biddy steps make a biggie big difference in keeping our Earth happy, healthy and green." Carrying their tote around put me in a good mood from the get go. Here's a list of other items that made me happy (yes, most of them are painted, and all of the following information is directly from the companies but a girl has to trust what she trusts):
Bamboo Collection from HaPe International. Cute bamboo dominoes! And excellent soon-to-be-launched E-Racer cars, also made of bamboo. I absolutely want some of their Anamalz, adorable poseable animals made out of organic maple.
Pretty much anything from Plan Toys, including their Dollhouse and City, is to die for. It's all so clean and sleek and beautiful and the details are charming. In their kitchen offerings, the fridge actually makes ice (little white wood cubes). And their new tea party set includes the cutest wooden tea bags. They say their stuff has been eco friendly since 1981. It's made in Thailand with preservative-free aging rubberwood trees that no longer produce enough latex to thrive in the environment. Formerly these trees would have been burned into charcoal (releasing CO2) and instead they make it into toys. They use only non-formaldehyde glue and water-based, nontoxic soy ink for accent color. We do already have a few of their things and, for future birthdays, I'd like more.
Any and all of Haba's wood toys are welcome chez me for a play date. We have plenty already. They had a big sign up in their Toy Fair booth display that read "NO LEAD PAINT!" They had a number of new beechwood puzzles, plus great blocks in all shapes and colors.
The last three companies I mentioned aren't American. That's par for the course these days, unfortunately. Which is why I'm so thrilled to be playing with Mary's Softdough, handmade by Mary herself in Oregon.
I have tried to make my own play dough (it is possible) to ensure it's as nontoxic as can be. The results are crumbly and lackluster in the color department. Mary's is bright as can be, softer and moister than conventional play dough and the ingredient list is short and sweet basically what I was using at home. The flour isn't organic (you're not supposed to be eating it, of course) but it is unbleached. In her scented dough category, most of the fragrances are natural. The synthetic ones are pretty easily figured out lemon occurs in nature so is natural, bubble gum doesn't so is synthetic. I already have the dough at home but stopped by the booth to meet Mary. I'm glad I did.
These are just some of my highlights. Going to the fair horrified me in the way I thought it might - there is just SO MUCH plastic crap and sit-on-your-butt to play with it electronics. But it also, as you can tell, lifted my spirits, and derailed me from feeling like I had to have a house with no toys. I wasn't really going to do that to my daughter. (Don't worry. I'm not that crazy.)
Send me links to "good" toys when and if you find them. I'm starting to compile my own feel-good database.
Meanwhile, it's time to go roll out more Softdough.
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