News 11 Special Report: Toxic Toys

This is a News 11 Special Report by Brad Harvey.

You can be the most careful parent -- pouring over recall lists and consumer reports magazines before buying any toys for your kids. Even at that, there may be a danger you know nothing about, as News 11's Brad Harvey reports.

We're talking about PVCs, which many call "plastic poison." The reason you've heard little about them is that toys made with them are not the subject of any kind of recall.

But some other products made with them have been recalled, and that's where the debate begins. We've been there as scores of children have offered a tentative finger for the prick of a blood test to show if they've been exposed to lead. Toys from China, lead paint on window sills -- the last thing parents need is to be worried about additional common household items that may be toxic.

Especially more toys.

But the latest warning couldn't be more common. They're toys made with PVC's -- polyvinyl chlorides. It's a type of plastic, and the concern about it originated from the heart of the medical community itself.

"The debate really ramped up when there was a study in 2003 that showed that plasticizers in IV tubing and other medical tubing in neonatal ICU units were causing problems with the development of newborn babies," says Dr. Tara Robinson, a family practice physician.

Robinson is no alarmist, but she has been watching closely as each new study is done. The problem isn't so much with the PVCs themselves but with the compounds manufacturers often mix in to make the plastic soft.

"These thiolates are compounds that are in conjunction with the PVCs chemically but are not chemically bonded to the PVCs, so they can leach out over time and that's what was found in the medical tubing studies -- that these compounds leached out over time," Robinson explains.

The list of toys made with this soft form of plastic is astonishingly long -- everything from action figures to rubber duckies.

The really scary thing about this is that, with babies, absolutely everything goes into their mouths. Astonishingly, teethers make the list most often.

There's little doubt that the softening agent by itself in large amounts is harmful, but how much of it leaches out of the toy and into the child's mouth is the question. Several organizations cite studies claiming the amount is significant and could be hazardous to kids.

Greenpeace has fought court battles over the issue for years. But the plastics industry has angrily denied any danger, pointing to their own studies. So what's a parent to do?

"I haven't really made any recommendations to my patients. But I know a lot of folks try to steer their children away from those plastic toys, instead giving them cloth or wooden toys to chew on so that they don't get exposed to those agents," Robinson says.

You can tell some, but not all of the toys containing the PVC plasticizer by the recycling number -- just look for the number three.

Just last week, lawmakers in the State of Washington passed a bill banning PVCs in toys. Late last year, California became the first state to do so.

Posted by KO