ANOTHER VIEW: Keeping toxins out of your holiday shopping

It’s shopping season! Experts predict that we’ll buy $602 billion worth of new stuff in the United States during November and December.

Unfortunately, new stuff too often brings new sources of toxic chemical exposure to our homes — exposures that can be especially harmful to infants and children.

Toxic-free holiday shopping

So how can a family stay healthy when the new toys, clothes, bangles, and baubles arrive? We can’t spot and avoid all toxics, but there are a few practical precautions we can take.

First, a few words on how we arrived at this advice:

It’s unbelievable, but manufacturers aren’t required to disclose their use of chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects and other life-long health harm — except in Washington state.

A new law there requires makers of children’s products to disclose their use of 66 chemicals that we know are toxic. The Washington Ecology database shows that many companies are intentionally using these chemicals in thousands of products.

Don’t you think manufacturers should disclose chemicals in Oregon, too? If so, show your support for the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act.

We took a deep look at the database, wading through products that contain heavy metals, toxics used in plastic, flame retardants, and volatile organic compounds. We found that there are some materials and some types of products that appear on the list quite a lot. So, to be cautious, it makes sense to avoid those materials and products unless they’re proven to be safe.

What to look for

That said, here are our tips, followed by a breakdown of some toxic chemicals and their hazards:

Avoid flexible plastics and plastic coatings like PVC and vinyl, or look for a label saying “phthalate free.”

Avoid metal costume jewelry.

Be cautious about glues and adhesives in craft kits or false fingernails. In general, if toys, clothing, or shoes give you a headache or scratchy throat, avoid them.

Avoid clear, hard shatterproof plastic that comes in contact with food or that children might put in their mouths.

Skip the furniture made with polyurethane foam and instead choose polyester, wool or cotton.

If you want to know more, you can check out the Washington database, but it can be hard to navigate. You can browse to see who is reporting, what the product categories are, and what chemicals are reported.

This fall, tested 143 products and found toxics in 115 of them. Take a look at the types of products they tested and the chemicals they found.


Data on chemical use and occurrence in products can be found in the Washington Ecology database associated with the Children’s Safe Products Act.

Information on health hazards associated with these chemicals can be found at and at

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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