12/06/2012 02:07 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2013

3 Tips to Check Toxic Toys Off Your List

You're making your list and checking it twice, but do you know what's in the toys you're stuffing in those stockings? Here are some quick tips to follow:

1. Avoid plastics made from or including BPA, PET, PVC and Styrofoam
2. Look for toys made from natural materials like wood and cloth
3. Choose gifts that are made locally

That last tip is a quick and easy way to limit the levels of cadmium, lead and other toxic chemicals to which children are exposed.

In 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act was passed to regulate lead and phthalates in toys and infant products after a public scare related to the problem of tainted toys imported mainly from China.

Some states are looking even closer at products marketed to kids. Washington's Children's Safe Products Act, Maine's Kid's Safe Products Act and California's Green Chemistry Initiative are examples.

But how to tell which toys are naughty and which are nice? Before you shop, take a minute to check Parents magazine's list of this year's toy recalls.

And if you're still set on plastic, try to assess what type you're buying by looking for a "chasing arrow" symbol on the bottom of the toy. As with all plastic products, avoid the numbers 1 (PET), 3 (PVC) and 6 (Styrofoam), and seek out those marked "BPA-free."

PET and PVC (also known as vinyl) are softened with phthalates. Even low levels of phthalates have been linked to birth defects, obesity and asthma.

Styrofoam takes 500 years to degrade, dissolves into tiny bits that end up in the ocean, is rarely recyclable and last year, it was assessed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" by the government.

And BPA, used to harden plastics, is a hormone disruptor; it mimics estrogen in the body and has been linked to obesity, anxiety and a common brain tumor called meningloma, among other problems.

This is a list worth checking twice.