Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 5: Facilities, Supplies, Equipment, and Environmental Health

5.2 Quality of the Outdoor and Indoor Environment

5.2.9 Prevention and Management of Toxic Substances Plastic Containers and Toys

The facility should use infant bottles, plastic containers, and toys that do not contain Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Bisphenol A (BPA), or phthalates. When possible, caregivers/teachers should substitute materials such as paper, ceramic, glass, and stainless steel for plastics.
Plastics can contain chemicals and metals, which are used as additives and stabilizers. Some of these additives and stabilizers can be toxic, such as lead (e.g., toys, vinyl lunchboxes). Plastics can release chemicals into food and drink; some types of plastics are more likely to do so than others (polycarbonate, PVC, polystyrene). Effects are not fully studied or understood, but in animal studies, some plastics have been tied to a wide range of negative health effects including endocrine (hormone) disruption and cancer (1,11).

PVC, also known as vinyl, is one of the most commonly used types of plastics today. PVC is present in many things used daily, from water bottles and containers, to wallpaper, wall paneling, credit cards, and children’s toys. Some of the substances added to PVC are among the hormone-disrupting chemicals that may pose hazards to human health and child development. PVC products, including certain toys, may have chemicals such as lead, cadmium, and phthalates, which can flake, leach, or off-gas, causing the release of these chemicals into the surroundings (2).

Phthalates is a class of chemicals used to make plastics flexible (3,4,11). Phthalates are used in many products: vinyl flooring, plastic clothing (e.g., raincoats), detergents, adhesives, personal-care products (fragrances, nail polish, soap), and is commonly found in vinyl (PVC) plastic products (toys, plastic bags) (13). In a national study, some phthalates have been found in 97% (5) of the people tested with generally higher concentrations found in children (6). In animal studies, health effects range from developmental and reproductive toxicity to damage to the liver (7,8).

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used when making polycarbonate and other plastic products. BPA is widely used in consumer products (infant bottles, protective coating in food cans, toys, containers, and personal care products) (13). It can leach from these products and potentially cause harm to those in contact with them. It can also have estrogen (female hormone)-like effects, which may impact biological systems at very low doses. Children may be exposed via: ingestion (diet and sucking/mouthing plastics), inhalation (of dust), and dermal contact. A national study found BPA in the urine of over 90% of people tested; children were found to have higher levels than adults (9). BPA has been found in pregnant women, umbilical cord blood, and placentas at levels demonstrated in animals to alter development (10).

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) empowers the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to set regulations protecting consumers of these products with testing and labeling. As of this writing new CPSC requirements are under development. Consumers of products for children should look for products that state “phthalate-free” or “BPA-free” or certification by Toy Safety Certification Program (TSCP) or American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Following are guidelines by which caregivers/teachers may reduce exposure to phthalates and BPA:

  1. When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids (12);
  2. If using plastic, do not use plastic or plastic wrap for heating in microwave (try substituting a paper towel or waxpaper for covering foods) (12);
  3. Check the symbol on the bottom of the plastic items including toys before buying. The plastics industry has developed identification codes to label different types of plastic. The identification system divides plastic into seven distinct types and uses a number code generally found on the bottom of containers. For a table that explains the seven code system, go to Contact the manufacturer if there is a question about the chemical content of a plastic item;
  4. Best plastic choices are 1 (PETE), 2 (HDPE), 4 (LDPE), 5 (PP) and plastics labeled “phthalate-free” or “BPA-free”;
  5. Avoid plastics labeled 3 (V), 6 (PS), and 7 (PC). Polycarbonate containers that contain BPA usually have a number 7 on the bottom;
  6. Use alternatives to polycarbonate “7” infant bottles. Alternatives include glass infant bottles, BPA free, and products made of safer plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene that are less likely to release harmful plasticizers (12) (safer non-polycarbonate bottles are usually cloudy and squeezable);
  7. Do not use latex rubber nipples or plastic bottle liners;
  8. Avoid canned foods when possible;
  9. If infant formula is used, it is best to use powdered formula in a can;
  10. Do not place plastics in the dishwasher;
  11. If using hard polycarbonate plastics (PC) such as water bottles/infant bottles, do not use for warm/hot liquids;
  12. Dispose of plastic bottles when they are old and scratched;
  13. Toys should be certified by the Toy Safety Certification Program (TSCP) or American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

For more tips on safer food use of plastics, see the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Website: Smart Plastics Guide: Healthier Food Uses of Plastics, available at

For more tips on safer alternatives to PVC plastics, see the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice (CHEJ) Website: The Campaign for Safe Healthy Consumer Products, available at

For general information on plastics and on how to recycle them, see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Website: Common Wastes and Materials: Plastics, at

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Product Recall Monitoring
  1. Eco-Healthy Child Care. 2010. Plastics and plastic toys. Children’s Environmental Health Network.
  2. BE SAFE. The dangers of polyvinyl chrloride (PVC).
  3. Huff, J. 1982. Di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate: Condensation of the carcinogenesis bioassay, technical report.Environ Health Perspectives 45:205-7.
  4. Kluwe, W. M. 1986. Carcinogenic potential of phthalic acid esters and related compounds: Structure-activity relationships. Environ Health Perspectives 65:271-78.
  5. Silva, M. J., D. B. Barr, J. A. Reidy, et al. 2004. Urinary levels of seven phthalate metabolites in the U.S. population from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999-2000. Environ Health Perspectives 112:331-38.
  6. Kolarik, B., K. Naydenov, M. Larsson, et al. 2008. The association between phthalates in dust and allergic diseases among Bulgarian children. Environ Health Perspectives 116:98-103.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2009. Fourth national report on human exposure to environmental chemicals. Atlanta, GA: CDC.
  8. Blount, B. C., M. Silva, S. Caudill, et al. 2000. Levels of seven urinary phthalate metabolites in a human reference population. Environ Health Perspectives 108:979-82.
  9. Calafat, A. M., X. Ye, L. Wong, et al. 2008. Exposure of the U.S. population to bisphenol A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol: 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspectives 116:39-44.
  10. Ikezuki, Y., O. Tsutsumi, Y. Takai, Y. Kamei, Y. Taketani. 2002. Determination of bisphenol A concentrations in human biological fluids reveals significant early prenatal exposure. Human Reproduction 17:2839-41.
  11. American Academy of Pediatrics. 2007. Technical report: Pediatric exposure and potential toxicity of phthalate plasticizers. Pediatrics 119:1031.
  12. California Childcare Health Program (CCHP). 2008. Banning chemicals called phthalates in childhood products. Berkeley, CA: CCHP.
  13. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2009. Prohibition on the sale of certain products containing specified phthalates.