By Barbara Kessler

Christmas has long since crowded out Halloween in the stores, but the scares aren’t over yet. Healthy Toys, a website hannah_montana_bag.jpgorganized by the Ecology Center in Michigan, has found frightening levels of toxic chemicals on dozens of common toys. Yeah, a lot of them are from the Dollar Store and many of them are made in China. But it ain’t quite that simple Daddy Santas; some of the toys that tested as perfectly clean, safe and non-toxic came from China, Vietnam and Mexico. And some of those that tested as having dangerously high lead, PVC, mercury or arsenic levels were made in a variety of places, including Europe, which we usually credit with producing safe, long-lasting toys. One tooth-brushing robot from Italy might last a long time alright, long enough to dampen your child’s IQ with a load of lead poisoning. Of course, if you never touched the robot’s eyeballs, you’d be safe. And we can trust our kids not to touch things right?

So how can a consumer tell what’s tainted and what’s not? There is no way to check when you’re on the scene. That Hannah Montana girls “rock purse” coated with lead does not come with an ingredient list, and if it did, the lead that crept onto it would surely not be mentioned. Toys just aren’t owning up to being doused by lead, cadmium, phthalates and arsenic.

That’s why Healthy Toys was formed, to test these toys and reveal any dangerous chemical components or residues. The website brings together research from many environmental groups across the nation. It opened for business in the nick of time just last week and lets you search by name and brands, and features a best and worst list of toys. Don’t use it at your own peril. Of four Hannah Montana products we looked up, three were rated as having “high” levels of lead (they were preternaturally shiny and glitzy — think there’s a connection?). The fourth Hannah Montana product, an action figure sold at Target, was rated low for lead, but “medium” for PVC, a non-biodegradable product that emits toxins during production and is often combined with plastic-softening phthalates, which are suspected hormone-disruptors.

Yes, we live in a chemical soup. But there are many toys that manage to avoid these compounds. Now at least you’ll have some help finding them.