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2007 may have been the year of the toxic toy, but the latest news shows 2008 isn’t much of an improvement. released the results of its tests of more than 1500 toys, and they don’t provide much consolation for moms and dads doing holiday shopping.

This year, one out of every five toys still contains lead, some at frighteningly high levels. The tests also found cancer-causing chemicals like cadmium and arsenic.

So what’s a mom to do? I’ve been mulling that over as I figure out what to buy my daughter, nieces, and nephews for Christmas this year. As a scientist who has tested her fair share of toys and other products, I’ve developed a sense for some good dos and don’ts. So, to make sure our loved ones get only the safest toys, we’re following a few house rules.

First, we’re going for tried and true materials. My niece Lena is getting the knit stuffed elephant she’s been wanting, and the backpack Matthew wants will be cotton or polyester, not vinyl. Plush toys, wool and cotton dolls, and unpainted wood are generally good choices.

Next, we’re relying on companies that have always come through for us. Playmobil committed to using PVC-free materials years ago, and has consistently produced beautiful, fun toys that test free of toxic chemicals. My daughter is hoping for the princess set with the baby. We’ll use and Washington Toxics Coalition’s Holiday Gift Guide to help us choose the best companies and products.

And finally, Santa’s workshop is open and in full swing. Don’t tell Natalie, but her uncle is already hard at work building her dolls the bunk bed they need. He’ll use non-toxic glues and finish in his woodworking that are safe for both Santa’s elves and the kids. And the girls of the house are doing a special secret sewing project with felt.

When I’m not busy in Santa’s workshop, I’m working hard to make sure we don’t face this dilemma next year. My state legislature and the U.S. Congress both passed legislation this year that will clean up toys somewhat for next year, but there’s more to be done. Let’s each put policies to keep all toxic chemicals out of toys at the top of our holiday wish lists, and send them to the state capitols as well as the north pole.

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