Don’t let unfounded health claims rain on your holiday toy parade

It’s that time of year again when stores slash prices on many popular gadgets, gizmos and toys, bringing droves of families to retail stores for some early holiday shopping. It’s also that time of year when activists try to convince you that many of the products swept off the store shelves are bad for you – or worse, bad for your children.

According to the Toy Industry Association, “All toys sold in the U.S., regardless of where they are made, must be tested to verify compliance with rigorous U.S. toy safety requirements.”

While some precautions should always be taken when purchasing a product for your little ones, there are some concerns out there, like chemicals in products, that should not distract you from far more serious risks, like choking hazards.  When it comes to chemistry, more than a dozen federal laws, overseen by the EPA, FDA and others, create a safety net to oversee the safe use of chemical products.  It’s also important to keep in mind that dose matters.  Just because a chemical is used in a product, detectible even in the smallest doses, it doesn’t mean it’s harmful to your health.  As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain, “The presence of a chemical does not imply disease. The levels or concentrations of the  chemical are more important determinants of the relation to disease, when established in appropriate research studies, than the detection or presence of a chemical” (CDC, 2005).

Below, we’ve put together some information about phthalates, a family of chemicals that activists like to pick on during the holiday season.


  • Phthalates help make plastics flexible while still maintaining the high level of performance, durability and stability consumers expect.
  • You might hear activists claim that phthalates are synthetic hormones. They are not. Nor do they mimic estrogen or testosterone. The potential effects of phthalates on the production of reproductive hormones have been well studied and have been the subject of numerous reviews.
  • While most of the phthalates in commerce are not associated with endocrine effects, a few phthalates have been found to interfere with normal sexual development in male rats at doses that are significantly higher than those typically experienced by people. These adverse effects have not been seen in primates and may not be relevant to human exposure.
  • Although it has been suggested that phthalates can act as asthma triggers, extensive testing has not shown phthalates to be allergens, nor has research shown them to be strong irritants. As a consequence, it is unlikely that phthalate exposure could act as a trigger for asthmatic attacks.

The key takeaway here is to keep risk in perspective, exercise precaution during the holiday rush, and of course, make sure you deliver on your child’s holiday expectations!

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