Sunday, December 28, 2008

All Consuming

Season’s Greetings & Happy New Year!

Triathlon is a gear-hungry sport, and it’s hard to resist the never ending parade of new toys and products designed to make us faster, faster-to-recover, more efficient, or just better looking. Not to mention the travelling to races and tri-vacations.

If you think tri gear is hard to resist, try resisting baby toys. They are designed to delight and develop young minds and bodies. But, the laws of nature dictate that matter cannot be created nor destroyed, so it’s hard to ignore the fact that today’s toys are tomorrow’s landfill material, no matter how many little hands it goes through en route to its final destiny.

So, I decided to cut out plastic as much as I possibly could. This was a simple decision, despite the fact that I could practically hear the eyes rolling in my friends and relatives who undoubtedly think I’m a bit of an extremist (ok, maybe not just a bit of one…)

Anyway, just when we got over lead paint, melamine tainted milk products and Bisphenol-A plastics we hear about a new toxin, or rather, an old toxin newly discovered to be harmful. The flavour of the month is phthlates. Phthlates are an additive to plastics that help soften them, making them more appealing to babies. Problem is, despite appearing stable, the phthalates have a nasty habit of continually off-gassing, a process that is accelerated when the plastic is gummed by a baby.

Are they safe? Well, this is what Health Canada has to say (and Canada hasn't even banned it yet):

"Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) has effects on laboratory animals that include birth defects and changes to the liver, kidneys, and reproductive systems. The substance is suspected of affecting hormone systems which makes it a potential endocrine disruptor. Risk assessments conducted by the European Union (EU) have identified DEHP as a reprotoxic substance.

DEHP was assessed in 1994 by the Government of Canada and declared toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. In 2005, the EU prohibited DEHP from all toys and childcare articles.

Health Canada considers children under three years of age to be at the greatest risk of adverse health effects from exposure to DEHP. DEHP can migrate out of soft vinyl children's products in response to sucking or chewing. "

Note DEHP is one of many components of plastics, one that happens to have been studied. I have no doubt we will be hearing about other components of plastic in tomorrow’s news. So, why not cut out plastics altogether just to be safe?

OK, so what about alternatives? There are websites full of healthy, toxin and chemical free playthings. One nice site is featuring brands such as HABA, Erzi and Neal’s Yard. I have also found some European brands such as Plan have classics in colourful non-toxic painted wood. US brand Melissa and Doug has a range of developmental toys that wouldn’t make me feel like I was depriving Hannah of popular culture.

Happy shopping (and returning, as the case may be) and my advice is to go for quality, not quantity….after all, that’s the argument that worked for justifying my carbon fibre Cervelo P2C a few years ago.

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