We have been investigating toy safety since our children were born, and we started sharing our findings on our blog 6 years ago when we started SAFbaby. The more we learned the more questions we had. We have done many articles on toys, and plastic and PVC. But we still had questions regarding toys and plastics that were coming up for us as parents.
We consider Mike Schade to be THE TRUSTED EXPERT when it comes to PVC and the true information that parents must know about. So, we went straight to him for the answers to our questions regarding PVC and our children’s well-being.
What we share with you today is an interview coming from the SAFbaby mamas. As mamas we are sure that other parents must have these same questions too. We are very grateful to Mike Schade for sharing his time and knowledge with all of us today. Please share this interview and help spread the news. Thank you.
Safbaby: Phthalates were banned in toys in the United States in 2008, is it still found in some toys?
Mike Schade, PVC Expert:
The ban on phthalates in toys doesn’t apply to ALL phthalates, so some phthalates that are not included in the ban may still be found in vinyl toys. And certain phthalates are only restricted in products for children under 3, or for products that may easily be placed in a child’s mouth. Therefore, some phthalates may still be found in children’s vinyl toys, especially for toys for children above 3 years of age.
Additionally – not enough is known about the health hazards of some of the phthalate and non-phthalate replacement chemicals. The US EPA is currently doing an alternatives assessment on these which will unveil some useful information.
Some studies have also found that vinyl toys contain and leach elevated levels of cadmium and organotins which also pose health hazards to children and consumers.
“Study after study shows that vinyl products leach hazardous additives!”
The best way to avoid the use of phthalates, lead, cadmium, organotins and other toxic additives in children’s toys is to avoid vinyl/PVC all-together, as study after study shows that vinyl products leach hazardous additives. Additionally – the production and eventual disposal of vinyl toys is fundamentally hazardous to our health – as it releases cancer-causing dioxins which we are all exposed to, as the release of dioxin from vinyl’s lifecycle is building up in our food and bodies. There is no safe level of exposure to dioxin.
“80% of children’s school supplies we tested contained phthalates, and 75% of all children’s school supplies we tested contained levels of phthalates so high they would not be allowed in toys.”
It’s also worth noting that even the phthalates that were banned in toys continue to be used in many other products that children come in contact with on a regular basis such as children’s back-to-school supplies. For example our investigation into children’s school supplies found that 80% of children’s school supplies we tested contained phthalates, and 75% of all children’s school supplies we tested contained levels of phthalates so high they would not be allowed in toys. While phthalates are banned in toys, they’re allowed in children’s school supplies such as backpacks and lunch boxes.Phthalates are also very common in building materials in our homes and schools, such as flooring. Studies have found associations between use of phthalates in flooring and asthma, the #1 chronic childhood illness in America today.
Is there a legal US limit of PVC in toys (all toys or just teething toys)?
No – unfortunately PVC is still allowed to be used in children’s toys, despite the fact that PVC is the most toxic plastic for children’s health on the planet.
If it says PVC-free, does this mean the manufacturer is allowed to have it up to a minimum level. If yes, what’s the legal limit?
There’s current no formal standard for PVC-free products globally, however a new sustainability standard was recently developed which addresses PVC and some other priority chemicals of concern in children’s toys.
To be authorized to carry the EcoLogo®, plastic and rubber-based components comprising 1% or more of the total weight of the toy must meet the following criteria:
In addition to the restrictions listed in section 4, plastics used in EcoLogo® certified toys may not contain bisphenol A or any of the phthalates identified as DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP, or DnOP; Ecologo® certified toys shall not include chlorinated plastics such as polyvinyl chloride;
An independent environmental certification firm was recently going to develop such a standard for PVC-free validation, but then the vinyl chemical industry pressured them to back off.
Can you educate us on the difference between PVC and phthalates. It seems parents AND manufacturers are still confused.
- PVC is a plastic that stands for polyvinyl chloride, and is commonly referred to as vinyl. Vinyl is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment on the planet. From production to use to disposal, vinyl uses and releases fundamentally hazardous chemicals such as vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, chlorine gas, mercury, dioxins, and numerous other chemicals of concern. These chemicals are linked to serious health problems including cancer, diabetes, learning and developmental disabilities, reproductive health problems, etc. There’s no safe way to make this plastic.
- Phthalates are chemicals that are often used to soften or “plasticize” vinyl products. You can’t make PVC soft and flexible without adding plasticizers such as phthalates to the polymer. Over 90% of all phthalates are used in vinyl products, such as the flooring inside of our schools and homes. Phthalate are not chemically bound to the plastic and can escape from the product, which can eventually make their way into our bodies. According to testing by the federal government, children and women of childbearing age face the highest exposure to phthalates.
Do you think a Nationwide Ban on PVC (Toys, Packaging etc.) a possibility in the near future?
We don’t see that happening right now, however there are some promising signs that Congress may enact comprehensive legislation to regulate toxic chemicals in consumer products in the next year or two.
However, the chemical industry should stop toying around with our children’s health and develop a comprehensive plan to phase out the use of toxic PVC toys.
As SAFBABY mamas, we’re frustrated about the USE of PVC in packaging for toys. Although the product is PVC-free, it doesn’t make sense to use PVC in packaging. Any comment?
Absolutely, especially as chemical additives in the PVC packaging can migrate onto the surface of the product. Thankfully many companies have been eliminating the use of PVC in packaging. For example, Hasbro has worked to reduce and eliminate the use of PVC in packaging.
Is ABS a safer alternative to PVC?
We don’t recommend ABS as a replacement material because like PVC, ABS plastic is made from fundamentally hazardous chemicals.
Our 2012 Back to School Guide discusses this concern:
“This plastic is manufactured with styrene, a chemical that can damage the nervous system and is listed as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Other key chemicals used in its manufacture include acrylonitrile and butadiene, which are both listed as possible human carcinogens.”
What is the safest plastic in toys?
Safer plastics for toys include those made out of polyethylene polymers, polypropylene, and biobased materials. Most toys are not labeled for plastic content so the best way for parents to find out is to ask the manufacturer or retailer directly. This is an unfortunate reality. Parents shouldn’t have to be chemical detectives when shopping for their little ones, which is why we need stronger safeguards at the federal level to restrict dangerous chemicals in our children’s products.
Lots of parents ask us about the safety of the most popular toys like Pet Shop, My Little Pony, Barbie, Action Figures for boys, Vtech toys etc… Are these made of PVC?
Many of these are still made out of PVC unfortunately. I don’t know whether or not all of them are – the best way for parents to find out is to contact the manufacturer directly and ask them what material the product is made out of. Parents have a right to know what’s in their children’s products! Another helpful resource is Healthystuff.org
Other PVC products (not toys) kids are exposed to daily – can you name 5 and give parents a safer alternative?
- Children’s vinyl lunch boxes*
- Children’s vinyl backpacks*
- Children’s vinyl raincoats*
- Vinyl flooring in homes and schools – linoleum flooring is a much safer option. It is a bio-based material made from linseed oil, is not a chlorinated plastic like vinyl (thereby avoiding the release of dioxins and furans), and does not contain or release
- Vinyl playground equipment – visit Chej’s Vinyl School for an interactive website to find alternatives to this and many other common products in schools.
* Go ahead and check out CHEJ’s brand new 2013 Back to School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies, and share it with your friends and family today!
“The Amazing Spider Man Backpack contained an estimated 52,700 parts per million (ppm) and 14,99ppm of DEHP in two different locations. If this product were a children’s toy, it would be over 52 times the limit set by the federal ban.” – Chej – Back to School Guide 2012
Help CHEJ safeguard our children from toxic chemicals in lunchboxes, backpacks and other school supplies. Click here to find out how.
About Mike Schade, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
Mike Schade is the Markets Campaign Coordinator with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), a national environmental health organization. Mike has over a decade of experience working on environmental health and justice issues. For four years, he was the Western New York Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, where he coordinated community, marketplace and policy campaigns, including the Toxic-Free Legacy, Bucket Brigade and Kodak Corporate Accountability campaigns, resulting in substantial victories for environmental and public health.
He also worked for the Buffalo Coalition for Economic Justice. At CHEJ, Mike has coordinated the successful national PVC and BPA Marketplace Transformation Campaigns which has convinced some of the world’s biggest companies to phase out PVC, phthalates and BPA. Ethisphere Magazine listed Mike as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics for 2007 and the PVC Campaign received the “Path to Victory” Business Ethics Network award.
He is the author or co-author of numerous reports including the Wasting of Rural New York State-Factory Farms and Public Health, Volatile Vinyl-the New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell, Baby’s Toxic Bottle-BPA Leaching From Popular Baby Bottles, No Silver Lining-An Investigation Into BPA in Canned Foods, and Toxic Toys R Us. He has a BS in Environmental Studies from the State University of NY at Buffalo.
Links of Interest:
- A useful report on “alternative” phthalate plasticizers was put out by the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production a few years ago.
- Find safer alternatives to vinyl and phthalates.