ANOTHER VIEW: Keeping toxins out of your holiday shopping

It’s shopping season! Experts predict that we’ll buy $602 billion worth of new stuff in the United States during November and December.

Unfortunately, new stuff too often brings new sources of toxic chemical exposure to our homes — exposures that can be especially harmful to infants and children.

Toxic-free holiday shopping

So how can a family stay healthy when the new toys, clothes, bangles, and baubles arrive? We can’t spot and avoid all toxics, but there are a few practical precautions we can take.

First, a few words on how we arrived at this advice:

It’s unbelievable, but manufacturers aren’t required to disclose their use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other life-long health harm — except in Washington state.

A new law there requires makers of children’s products to disclose their use of 66 chemicals that we know are toxic. The Washington Ecology database shows that many companies are intentionally using these chemicals in thousands of products.

Don’t you think manufacturers should disclose chemicals in Oregon, too? If so, show your support for the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act.

We took a deep look at the database, wading through products that contain heavy metals, toxics used in plastic, flame retardants, and volatile organic compounds. We found that there are some materials and some types of products that appear on the list quite a lot. So, to be cautious, it makes sense to avoid those materials and products unless they’re proven to be safe.

What to look for

That said, here are our tips, followed by a breakdown of some toxic chemicals and their hazards:

Avoid flexible plastics and plastic coatings like PVC and vinyl, or look for a label saying “phthalate free.”

Avoid metal costume jewelry.

Be cautious about glues and adhesives in craft kits or false fingernails. In general, if toys, clothing, or shoes give you a headache or scratchy throat, avoid them.

Avoid clear, hard shatterproof plastic that comes in contact with food or that children might put in their mouths.

Skip the furniture made with polyurethane foam and instead choose polyester, wool or cotton.

If you want to know more, you can check out the Washington database, but it can be hard to navigate. You can browse to see who is reporting, what the product categories are, and what chemicals are reported.

This fall, tested 143 products and found toxics in 115 of them. Take a look at the types of products they tested and the chemicals they found.


Data on chemical use and occurrence in products can be found in the Washington Ecology database associated with the Children’s Safe Products Act.

Information on health hazards associated with these chemicals can be found at and at

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