I decided to clean out the toy box this week.
After writing about phthalates and lead in toys and about BPA-filled plastic in other baby items, I decided I ought to take a closer look at what my daughter has been playing with and happily gumming these past months. I figured that getting rid of two or three worrisome items would make room for the new additions the holidays are likely to bring.
In retrospect, part of me wishes I'd just keep the lid shut on that Pandora's toy box. If ignorance is bliss, then a little knowledge is just enough to make you crazy. Finding information online is time-consuming, inconclusive and a headache that most of us don't have time for.
The problem with toys is that if they are made with plastics that contain phthalates or Bisphenol-A or if plastic or wood is covered in lead-laced paint, the chemicals can leech out of the toys as kids suck on them, potentially wreaking long-term havoc on little bodies.
Most of the new toys my daughter has received are fine because the better toy companies have begun to avoid ingredients like phthalates as consumers have become aware of their problems. And my daughter is too young for play jewelry, a common culprit where lead is concerned.
But like most parents I know, I've more than once accepted a bagful of hand-me-down toys from a friend with older kids and I've picked things up at stoop sales. These are the toys that had me Web-surfing and feeling like the Grinch as the pile of toys I feel compelled to dump grew bigger than I expected. Equally tall is the pile of things I'm not sure about.
Things I felt comfortable returning to the toy bin included those that were all or mostly cloth or unpainted wood. There were also toys, like my daughter's singing V-Tech book that she doesn't put in her mouth. Finally toys made by brands we trust like Brio, Haba, Selecta or Melissa & Doug got a reprieve, along those made in Europe.
Toys that got extra scrutiny included anything made in China, unless the maker specifically eschews phthalates and BPA on its Web site, toys that had no brand name stamped on them -- I have to wonder why the manufacturer doesn't want to take credit for them -- those most likely to wind up being gnawed on, like teethers, rattles and anything small, especially if they look worn.
The easy thing to do when you know who makes a particular toy is to hunt down phone numbers and call customer service. The ones I reached out to -- Sassy and Manhattan Toy Company -- have friendly and helpful people. At the very least they can usually tell you if your toy has been recalled, which is especially helpful with hand-me-downs.
The woman at Sassy was able to reassure that their toys don't contain phthalates and that the teether and some spoons I own have no polycarbonate (the plastic that contains BPA). She was also able to tell me via a numeric code on the toys that rattles were made before the company started removing polycarbonate from certain products.
She also told me that a spoon-and-fork set I bought recently did contain polycarbonate. Since they're meant to alternate between warm food and the dishwasher the BPA is a particular concern. So I added those and the older rattles to the trash pile.
I'm disappointed at having to toss out at least one barely used item -- and that Sassy is still using polycarbonate at all -- but impressed that the company is straightforward with its information and keeps its customer service rep well informed.
Often times these customer-facing folks are taught to simply say that the company's toys meet or exceed the highest regulatory standards, which isn't so reassuring when you know the standards are awash in controversy or about to become tougher in a few months.
I'd read that Manhattan Toy stopped using plastics with phthalates about three years ago, but the customer service rep could neither confirm nor dispute that, or tell me whether the toys in question were made before or since that policy change.
I was able to gather from our conversation that a Whooz-it teething rattle I had was probably made more than three years ago. It's the style of toy that could easily have been made with phthalates and since it's made for gnawing, I'm tossing that.
Also being tossed is a donut-shaped rattle of unknown provenance with clear plastic that could well be polycarbonate and that's also pretty scarred. A Chicco rattle that looks cheap and like it's seen better days (and that I couldn't find online) and a rubbery sports-themed teething toy that my daughter hasn't shown much interest in anyway.
In the I-don't-know pile is a toy that looks like something Manhattan Toy calls a winkel, but the one on the company's Web site doesn't feature the primary colors that mine has. The woman on the phone didn't seem familiar with mine and the only reference to it I could find online was a 2001 posting on epinions.
I'm guessing that this too was made before the company went phthalate-free (if this toy ever had them to begin with), but I'd like to know for sure before I toss it because it's pretty cool. So for now it goes into toy purgatory.
It's joined there by a set of plastic keys, an hourglass rattle, a twisty green wooden caterpillar and some plastic rings with Sesame Street characters. They're cool toys that we like but they're also highly chewable and lack a brand-named that I can look them up and confirm that they're OK.
So I've been reassured about quite a few critical toys like our teethers, but also have a pile of toys I'll regret throwing out and that I hope my daughter won't miss, and I'm left to stare at a cute green wooden caterpillar wondering if its toxic.
There's got to be a better way.