12/04/2006 10:07 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Safest Toys Are From San Francisco

Attention parents who want to buy their babies the safest toys possible: order them from San Francisco.

Starting December 1st, the forward-thinking Californian city banned baby products containing toxic chemicals known to leach into sweet, helpless, sucking, teething, and biting mouths under three years old. Toys with any level of bisphenol-A, a hormone disrupter found in some hard plastics, and certain levels of phthalates, another hormone disrupter and suspected carcinogen found in PVC (vinyl), are no longer allowed. This ban touches on one of those hot button issues with big business and government all tied in an uncomfortable, back scratch-y knot. For every scientist proving these harmful chemicals are flowing out of your baby's bottle into her little tummy, there are other scientists (hired by plastic manufacturers perhaps) claiming they're perfectly safe for a child's fragile system.

I don't believe the latter. And I'm in good company. The European Union enacted a similar ban earlier this year. (The EU is currently also way ahead of the United States in limiting potentially harmful chemicals in cosmetics, but that's a whole other discussion.) Besides, in the highly unlikely event the these-chemicals-are-harmless scientists turn out to be right, why would I willingly allow my baby to be a guinea pig while people in lab coats take the time to figure it out? When it comes to cancer and developmental issues and babies, I'll err on the side of caution.

Having a baby is always potentially anxiety-provoking. Now is a particularly heady time to enter parenthood. A growing national interest in eating pesticide-free organic food while pregnant and
feeding it to growing babies has given way to a crop of parents suspicious about what other chemicals should be avoided. What exactly, they wonder, is lurking in pacifiers, diaper cream, crib mattresses?

Reading the newspaper daily fuels the fodder: flame retardant in couches, neurotoxins in fish, and deadly spinach consistently make headlines. What will become the next DDT, the next lead paint, the next
PCBs? What will be banned tomorrow that is considered "safe" today?

Parents wanting to counter these fears must become hyper-educated consumers. Our government just isn't protecting us and our growing babies the way it should be. Think I'm paranoid? A recent article
about the ban in the San Francisco Chronicle stated, "The Food and Drug Administration, which controls chemicals that may touch food, and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is responsible for toy
safety, haven't limited the chemicals in baby products for years. Representatives say they have no plans to impose new restrictions." Ouch. The article also mentions that the EPA admits its own guidelines
for safe human exposure to the chemicals are "decades old and don't take into account the new research."

This is precisely why I drank out of glass instead of plastic during my pregnancy (and continue to do so now), never store my food or breastmilk in plastic, use shatterproof glass baby bottles, buy the purest diaper cream available, never clean my apartment with conventional products, and go out of my way to buy non-toxic wooden toys and teething rings. I've heard people tell me I'm extreme. I've also met mother after mother who are doing at least some part of what I'm doing. I find my approach to be rather like defensive driving with my body, and now with my baby's body. The non-toxic toys, by the way, are usually made by European companies. There's a theme here.

Living organically, non-toxically is a choice. It can be exhausting. As a tired mom, I'd love to just go to a store and mindlessly buy a toy - any toy - for my whining, teething baby. Which is why this piece of
legislation in San Francisco is great news (even though similar statewide legislation recently failed). As part of the aforementioned article, The San Francisco Chronicle purchased 16 random baby toys, put
them through independent lab tests, and found many of them - including a doll, bath books, and regular old bottles - violated the city's new ban. Taking the chemicals out of the equation means we might actually one day be able to trust that any teether in any store is safe.

Will the ban work? My fingers are crossed. It comes as no shocker that toy companies and stores are defensive, and have already filed law suits in San Francisco. My hope is that the ban will at least bring
this issue to the national table, and expose the need for more vigilance about the chemicals that surround a pregnant mom and her new baby. The more parents know about the chemicals, the better. Unfortunately toys aren't the only place bisphenol-A and phthalates lurk. But one thing at a time.

Here's hoping San Francisco's steps enrage enough parents to pressure the people who should be regulating these things (hello, The Consumer Product Safety Commission, hello, EPA). We need a user-friendly, trustworthy product labeling similar to the government-regulated USDA Organic seal. Because ultimately rubber ducky isn't supposed to terrorize parents and harm infants. It's supposed to make bath time so much fun.