Child playing with plastic toy. Is it BPA free and Phthalate free?

BPA free and Phthalate free toys for your child?

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BPA free and Phthalate free are two terms you should look for on the labels of plastic toys. Different types of plastic are used for different types of toys. In general, the softer the toy, the more likely that it will contain toxic chemicals. It’s often the plastic softening additives (mostly BPA and Phthalates) that are the baddies!

Looking back on how I managed the toys in my now 7 year old daughter’s baby years, I think I did alright, but only by accident. If I knew then what I know now then I would do some things differently.

While all toys in Australia must meet Australian Toy Standards, many toys are manufactured in places that don’t have manufacturing Standards like Australia does. Australian law regards the importer of a toy as its manufacturer. That places the responsibility for compliance with the Australian Standards onto the importer. The fines for non-compliance are heavy.

The problem is that some toys slip through the cracks. Very small importers and direct-from-manufacturer online auction sites are two paths for toxic toys to enter the country. Odds-on your child will play with toxic toys at some point.  Sometimes you don’t have control over what toys your child plays with. For example, childcare, or a friend or family member may have old toys that do not meet current Standards.

The good news is that many of the toxins from plastics are expelled from our bodies fairly quickly. That makes regular exposure to toxins over a long period of time (as opposed to occasional and brief exposure) the major issue.

Things you can do

Avoid soft toys like rubber ducks. They are unlikely to be BPA free and Phthalate free.

Avoid soft toys like rubber ducks. They are unlikely to be BPA free and Phthalate free.

There are some things you can do to minimize your child’s exposure to the toxic chemicals in plastic toys. Be alert but not alarmed…

Types of plastics

There are many types of plastics that could be used to make toys. In the absence of a label that states a toy is BPA free and Phthalate free, or a recycle symbol 2, 4, or 5, do not buy the toy. At MyScallywag we stock Green Toys. These are made from types 2, 4 and 5 plastics that have been recycled from food grade milk cartons and coloured with food-safe colouring.

Symbol

Name

Risks

 Recycle symbol. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)     

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Do not use PET bottles to make homemade children’s toys. Subjected to heat (eg. hot bath, left in the sun), a chemical called antimony can leach out. Antimony has been known to cause arsenic like poisoning

Recycle symbol. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene). This is BPA free and Phthalate free.

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

None known

Recycle symbol. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)

Usually contains phthalates so it can cause reproductive, language and allergy problems. Also linked to bone and liver diseases.

Recycle symbol. LDPE (Low-density polyethylene). This is BPA free and Phthalate free.

LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)

None known

Recycle symbol. PP (Polypropylene). This is BPA free and Phthalate free.

(PP) Polypropylene

None known

Recycle symbol. PS (Polystyrene)

(PS) Polystyrene

Long term exposure to small quantities of styrene can cause neurotoxic (fatigue, nervousness, difficulty sleeping), haematological (low platelet and haemoglobin values), cytogenetic (chromosomal and lymphatic abnormalities), and carcinogenic effects.

Recycle symbol. Other plastics. If present with "PC", that indicates polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is made using BPA.

Other

If present with “PC”, that indicates polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is made using BPA.

Recycled symbols coloured as traffic lights. Green means no known risks, yellow means proceed with caution. Red means avoid completely.

BPA and phthalates are additives to plastic

BPA and Phthalates are the two common additives to plastic and so are the most relevant to this blog post. They are both known to be endocrine disruptors. That means they contain chemicals that mimic the body’s hormones. At sufficient exposures they have been associated with fertility, brain, allergy issues and cancers.

Nobody knows what the safe levels are

Scientists are not in full agreement on what constitutes a safe level of exposure to the toxins in plastics. The current Standards allow for very low levels of BPA and phthalates in plastics, including food packaging.

Neither can scientists be sure that today’s “safe levels” will be tomorrows safe levels. This is what happened with lead in children’s toys and paint. Acceptable levels of lead in these fell dramatically, but in stages, between the 1970s and 1990s!

Be aware that BPA free and Phthalate free plastics may not be “risk free”. The plasticising job that the BPA and Phthalates would normally do is often replaced by some other product, the toxicity characteristics of which may not yet be fully understood.

There is a principle in toxicology that is used to prescribe “acceptable levels” of toxins in foods and goods. It is known as “the dose makes the poison”. Simplistically, while large doses of many things can be harmful, small doses of most things are harmless. For example, through time, arsenic has been used as an assassin’s tool in large doses and an ingredient in medicines in small doses.

Young children are a special case for toxins. They are likely to have a greater exposure due to the way they interact with plastics…

Phthalates

Phthalates are known to be associated with reduced fertility (especially in boys), delayed language development, asthma, and increased allergic reactions

Phthalates are used to soften brittle plastic, especially PVC. They are banned in toys used by children < 3 in Australia. That means you should read the labelling closely on toys with an age guidance of 3+.

BPA (Bisphenol A)

It is thought that BPA might affect the brain and prostate gland of foetuses, infants and children. It can also affect a child’s behaviour.

BPA is found in polycarbonate plastics. Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles and tinned food. You should avoid heating BPA plastics. Heat breaks them down and creates a pathway to enter food.

Conclusion

BPA and Phthalates are the two most common additives to plastic toys. We have an Australian Toy Standard that sets limits for these toxins. Nobody can guarantee that these limits are correct, but they are the best there is to go by for now.

Ideally you should seek out toys that have BPA free and Phthalate free on their label. In the absence of that, look for toys that have the recycle numbers 2, 4 or 5. These are food grade plastics.

Even children of the most vigilant parent will come across BPA and Phthalates in a toy room somewhere someday. BPA and Phthalates are toxins that will not accumulate in your child’s body. Consistent long-term exposure to them should be your biggest concern.

So, be sure to check that your child’s favourite toy is not toxic. Discourage your child from sucking on plastic toys. And encourage your child to wash hands before eating.

References

http://www.babygreenthumb.com/p-122-safe-plastic-numbers-guide.aspx

https://cameochemicals.noaa.gov/chemical/681

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tomia/Gallery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_dose_makes_the_poison

https://jmvh.org/article/arsenic-the-poison-of-kings-and-the-saviour-of-syphilis/

https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/food-warnings-and-safety/plastic/articles/plastics-and-food

https://www.generalkinematics.com/blog/different-types-plastics-recycled/

https://www.productsafety.gov.au/bans/dehp-in-childrens-plastic-items

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/18/christmas-shoppers-warned-avoid-plastic-toys-toxin-levels

Photo by srinivas bandari on Unsplash