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Playing It Safe.

Eco-Toys Benefit Children's Health and Development

Grasping your toddler's hand, you pull her closer as you wander deeper into the forest of playthings at your local toy store. You find crayons, but some unnerving thoughts pass through your mind: Do they have lead? Have they been recalled? How would I know in the first place? Certainly some of the stories about toy dangers are enough to make parents wary.

In recent news, nine Hasbro plastic Playskool toys containing antimicrobial pesticides were recalled, as were 11 brands of crayons containing lead. Plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-laden toys containing ingestible cadmium and chlorine only add to parents' fears. A recent Greenpeace study revealed that PVC softeners known as phthalates have been found to cause liver and kidney damage and disrupt hormonal systems in children (see "Teething Toxins," In Brief, March/April 1998). In response, several European nations have banned PVC toys altogether. U.S. toy distributors are still debating the issue.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), however, is assessing the risk to children from phthalates in plastic toys. "We have to find evidence of health risks from toxicity and exposure before we can take any action," says Ken Giles, an agency spokesman. Many stores, such as Toys 'R Us, rely on the CPSC to judge the safety of toys, and will not act against items with PVC without solid proof of any cancer-causing potential. Nancy Chuda, of the Children's Health Environment Coalition, which researches causes of children's cancers, says she is glad testing has begun. "We definitely need major studies done on this matter," she says. "We're hoping manufacturers will then consider creating some alternatives not hazardous to children."

The CPSC is also on the lookout for toys with high levels of lead, since lead poisoning in children can cause neurological damage, delayed mental and physical development, and hearing problems. Recently, CPSC recalled 16,000 Oscar Mayer "Wienermobile" pedal cars with decals that contained lead. And, in January, in a case involving the Effanbee Doll company, the agency recalled 2,500 miniature rocking chairs because of excessive levels of lead in the paint.

Toys, however, impact children in other ways, too. What kind of message is sent by Fantasy Fur's endangered snow leopard babydoll coat? "Toys should further children's inner development, allowing them to express moods and feelings freely," says Evi Hoffman, owner of Nova Natural, a toy store focusing on child development. "In many aspects, natural children's toys are more beneficial than cold, plastic ones."

So why are natural toys not a booming industry, wonders Holly Colangelo of A Child's Dream, an all-natural toy manufacturing company. "Only one or two out of 200 toys I manufacture go into mainstream toy stores," she says. Deborah Bentley, owner of New England's Toy Box, an eco-toy retailer, believes price is one reason. "There is interest in eco-toys," she says, "but until the cost decreases, people would rather just pick up anything."

Manufacturers and sellers of eco-toys are quick to point out that their products are not mass-produced. The result, in many cases, is toys of better quality and craftsmanship. "Awareness is growing and more people have shown an interest, compared to 10 years ago," adds Hoffman.

Toying With Nature

Indeed, toys that are manufactured with a bow to environmental concerns are out there. The key is knowing what to look for.

* Family Games Inc., among the first to manufacture items from recycled materials, offers games with animal and environmental themes, such as "Endangered" and "Flight of the Honeybee." The games have no playing pieces; players use buttons, paperclips, or other household items to reduce manufacturing costs and waste. (Newer products were also designed to eliminate wasteful packaging.) Choices range from $5 card games to $29.99 board games, with a share of profits going to charitable organizations like the American Oceans Campaign and local humane societies.

* "Let's Save Our Earth," a product of Karen Enterprises in Solvang, California, ($21.95) and distributed by the Real Earth Environmental Company, is another board game that focuses on the environment. The goal is to win as many "trees" as possible to finally enter "Eco Angel Headquarters" and avoid "Schmutzie Village." "Basically, this is an educational game rather than a competitive one," says Real Earth's Donna Fleming. "Players get points for making the right environmental decisions."

* The Ark Foundation's Preservation Puzzles are three-dimensional, eco-friendly foam replicas of endangered or exotic birds. The largest puzzles measure more than three feet in length, and all can be hung from the ceiling or wall. Eighteen puzzles are available (from $22 to $78), with 10 percent of the proceeds donated to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species Survival Plan.

* Insect Lore's Butterfly Garden ($21.95) lets children watch the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Along with live caterpillars in a nutrient-filled jar, a colorful butterfly house and feeding kit, instructions on their care, release and interesting facts are included Insect Lore also offers kits on ants, earthworms, frogs and other creatures.

* The Environmental Toy Company's Eco Bear ($9.95 to $24.95) is a posable hemp teddy bear stuffed with 100 percent recycled material. Attached to the bear is information about hemp and its myriad uses, and a toy-sized hemp necklace that your child can wear as a bracelet. The company's newest creations include a hemp bunny named Aware Hare and its reptilean counterpart, Eco Gecko. A portion of the proceeds are donated to environmental causes, and a tree will be planted for each person that returns an enclosed card.

* The Music For Little People Company is dedicated to producing and selling recordings that entertain as well as educate children. Catfish Hodge's "Adventures at Catfish Pond" ($15.98 CD, $9.98 cassette), featuring the Endangered Species Orchestra, tells a saga of the animals' pancake breakfast, all the while teaching about their habitats and the environment. Other recordings include "Penguin Parade" ($11.98 CD, $7.98 cassette), by the Banana Slug String Band, which introduces children to the animal kingdom.

* Mind Magic's CD-ROM "Jubilee's Journey" ($39.95 for Windows or Macintosh) helps kids learn about environmental problems and play games with "young Dr. Jane Goodall" and her chimpanzee Jubilee. The game offers information about 18 different habitats, and includes music videos and a journal to promote environmental awareness after the computer is turned off.

Finally, nothing beats a book for stimulating young minds. A few good bets: The Shaman's Apprentice (Harcourt Brace, $16), by Lynne Cherry and Mark J. Plotkin. Rooted in Plotkin's experiences, the book (printed on chlorine-free paper) tells of a rainforest village that learns to appreciate its culture, with the help of western scientists. A percentage of the proceeds is donated to protecting the rainforest. The beautifully-illustrated Sea Otter Inlet (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $15.95) by Celia Godkin, tells of the destruction of an underwater kelp forest when a group of sea otters is devastated, and how it recovers with the otters'return.

CONTACT: A Child's Dream, (800)359-2906; The Ark Foundation, (888)ARK-8500; Children's Health Environmental Coalition, (310)589-2233; Environmental Toy Company, (888)373-5250; Family Games, (800)291-1176; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, (905)477-9700; Harcourt Brace, (619)699-6851; Insect Lore, (800)LIVE-BUG; Mind Magic, (800)762-6443; Music For Little People, (800)346-4445; New England's Toy Box, (860)868-0779; Nova Natural, (914)356-2304; Real Earth Environmental Company, (310)457-6331.

Sharon Loh and Elizabeth Levy are interns at E.
COPYRIGHT 1998 Earth Action Network, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:environment-friendly toys
Author:Levy, Elizabeth
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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