Please Touch…this toxic toy

I hate to be a “Debbie Downer” but I just had to write to the Please Touch Museum after a recent visit with my son. This museum is a cultural landmark, a place I loved as a kid. They have a magnificent new building and it is fabulous learning and fun experience for the kids. But…

Dear Please Touch Museum Staff:

Let me begin by saying that I love the Please Touch Museum. I have many fond memories from my own childhood, and recently enjoyed bringing my 8-month-old son to the new facility for the first time.

While we were impressed by the size and scope of the museum, I was struck by some of the practices and products on display.

We noticed synthetic fragrances being pumped into the air to create sensory effects. These fragrances likely contain phthalates, a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient and also as solvents. Additionally, there were many soft, squishy plastic toys like rubber ducks which definitely contain phthalates as well.

With strong links to breast and prostate cancer and reproductive abnormalities in little boys, phthalates may be as dangerous as they are difficult to spell. In the last year the U.S. and Canada governments have moved toward the European standard — a ban on phthalates in toys meant for children under 3– which has existed since the ’90s. In 2008 Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act to enact a permanent ban on three phthalates and a temporary ban on three others from comprising more than 0.1% of any children’s product for ages 12 and under. However, that rule puts no restriction or labeling requirements in toys for older kids or personal care products (fragrances).

I would venture to guess that many of the toys I saw also contain BPA (found in many clear, hard plastics) or even lead and cadmium (I saw some old-looking metal toys in the “tea party” that looked like they may have been painted with lead or cadmium). You can find more information about why these things are a concern here:

Most disturbing, but probably impossible to do anything about, was the sponsored McDonalds display touting potatoes and lettuce as “healthy ingredients” in Happy Meals. Come on. I don’t think I have to explain why this is terrible in a society plagued with poor health and childhood obesity.

While I was impressed by the variety of offerings in your food court and your recycling practices, the above mentioned items are deeply concerning. In an era where parents are constantly learning about the dangers of everyday toys and products, The Please Touch Museum needs to be more sensitive to these very real concerns.

It’s not so much that I’m concerned about my son spending a couple hours in a less than ideal environment – he will learn better at home. But so many of these children and their parents may not know better, and they are learning that these products are appropriate toys and being misled about their safety.

Major children’s institutions such as yours need to be leaders in responsible play. I have spoken with many other eco and health-conscious mothers who were also concerned about these issues and would like to see them addressed.

I sincerely hope you will consider this request for a more thorough investigation of the products and practices at The Please Touch Museum for the safety of our children. I do look forward to many more visits with my family.


Paige Wolf

Hey, I hear it’s the irate mothers who instigated the BPA ban in Canada. So here’s hoping that citizen action will work!

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