Santa’s nontoxic toys

Finding the perfect gift for your children this holiday season is certainly stressful—just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Jingle All the Way. But while you might worry whether you’ve picked the trendiest doll or the coolest video game, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether your gifts (or Santa’s!) might be toxic to your kids.

We’ve all seen the headlines: our shelves are stocked with “toxic toys” and our kids are “playing with poison.” Most of these cases of contaminated toys are imported from countries like China, where lax regulations make it easier for manufacturers to produce products for children that contain dangerous levels of heavy metals like lead and chromium.

{mosads}These chemicals pose known dangers—they’re certainly not substances you want your toddler putting in her mouth. Luckily, strict regulations and increased manufacturer scrutiny ensure that the vast majority of toys on our shelves are free of poisonous chemicals.

Instead of focusing on toys containing dangerous levels of heavy metals, however, lots of activists are using the holiday season to stir up worry about a harmless chemical used in thousands of toys and other every day products.

Certainly, the biggest trend du jour is the promotion of “BPA-Free” toys. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in a wide array of applications, including plastic toys. Activists have pushed for the chemical’s ban from children’s products and food packaging despite a huge volume of research showing the chemical poses no risk to human health at current levels.

It’s probably hard to believe BPA isn’t dangerous—after all, it seems like every week a new headline linking the chemical to some ailment is published. Just this week, a new study claiming BPA could increase blood pressure, raising the risk for heart disease, was published in the journal, Hypertension.

There are certainly lots of studies purportedly linking BPA to harm, but in the majority of those studies huge amounts of the chemical—much more than you’d ever come into contact with normally—were directly injected into the bloodstream of animals. So unless you plan on injecting copious amounts of a chemical into yourself or your children, it’s very unlikely you’re going to develop any of the scary ailments these studies have linked to BPA.

Other studies—like the one linking BPA to heart disease—get blown out of proportion by headlines. Some such news stories claimed “drinking two cans of soda a day could raise your blood pressure.”

First, the study didn’t look at any beverage other than soy milk (soy milk is suspected of mimicking estrogen in the body, affecting blood pressure). Second, participants’ blood pressure actually declined regardless of whether they drank the milk from a glass (ingesting low levels of BPA) or a can (ingesting higher amounts of BPA). It just went down slightly less if they drank two cans of soy milk. There was virtually no difference in blood pressure between drinking two cans of soy milk or a bottle and can of soy milk.

That’s why government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and European Commission have concluded—after reviewing the available research and evidence—that BPA is safe as it’s currently used.

No one wants to expose our kids to toxic chemicals, but we shouldn’t let unfounded fears drive Santa away. Fortunately, most of the presents under the tree this year won’t need to be returned to the North Pole.

Perrone is the chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, a project of the nonprofit Center for Organizational Research and Education. CORE is supported by a wide variety of businesses and foundations, including those in the hospitality, agriculture, and energy industries.


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