They're meant to provide a safe, steady surface for toddlers but governments are increasingly concerned about the chemicals they contain.
Green Queen: foam puzzle mats for kids can contain toxins
It's hard to stay on top of all the products children are exposed to. The most recent items concerning lawyers and parents alike are those ubiquitous interlocking, multicoloured foam puzzle mats that often come bearing letters of the alphabet, numbers or cute designs.
Although they are designed to provide a steady, safe surface for babies and toddlers, they can also contain formamide. This industrial chemical is used to make the mats softer and more pliable, but it has also been named as a possible carcinogen, reproductive toxin and eye and skin irritant.
Late last year the government of Belgium banned the sale of the mats after its health department tested 30 different varieties and found only a few without the chemicals.
"They are solvents, residues from the manufacturing process that stay in the product afterwards," Alfred Bernard, a professor of toxicology and research director at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, said at the time. "They can be absorbed through breathing or through the skin. As a rule, children should not be exposed to these products."
France followed suit, implementing a three-month ban to conduct its own tests. And just last week the consumer group Kidsafe Victoria prompted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to begin testing the mats to see if they are safe for children.
Although there are no restrictions on the sale of the mats in the US, the authors of the website www.safbaby.com are concerned. Just two of 10 manufacturers they contacted could back up their formamide-free claims with actual lab tests: Softtiles (www.softtiles.com) and EduShape Edutiles (available at select stores and www.amazon.com).
Everyone likes a new box of crayons, but that often means the broken leftovers, which were energy-intensive to produce, are sent to landfill where they take years to break down.
There are other options such as beeswax varieties or Crayon Rocks, which are made from soybeans, coloured with natural mineral powders and formed in the perfect shape for little hands to grip (www.crayonrocks.net). The National Crayon Recycling Program in the US employs people with developmental disabilities to sort old, donated crayons that are used to make 100 per cent recyclable options including Crazy Crayon Sticks, Eco Stars and tons of other shapes available through www.amazon.com.
You could also melt your own in a do-it-yourself project kids will love. Just chop up all the little bits, keeping like colour with like, then bake in muffin tins for up to 45 minutes under a watchful eye. Hey presto: crayon discs.