Until I started reading 'green' baby books I had absolutely NO idea that PVC (a common household plastic sometimes referred to simply as 'vinyl') was even remotely dangerous. According to greenpeace PVC is the most "environmentally damaging of all plastics." The process of making PVC is combines many chemicals to soften and stabilize the plastic. These chemicals include chlorine, lead, cadmium, DHEA and phthalates. Many of these chemicals are linked to liver and kidney damage as well as cancer in animals. Phalates in general have been linked to reproductive organ problems as well as premature breast development in girls. The problem is that these chemicals don't stay IN the PVC after processing and could and do leach out, not only while you own the thing containing PVC but also after it ends up in a landfill, causing these chemicals to end up in the ground water.
Guess what?!? Virtually every known use for PVC has a safer alternative, the problem of course, is that the safer alternative is generally more expensive so big companies aren't eager to make the switch.
Our biggest power for change is in our pocketbook so if we stop buying products that contain PVC maybe manufacturers will stop producing them. (This includes your vinyl shower curtain, that nasty smell it has for a few days after you first put it up is clue #1 it's not good for you).
Here is a list of a few brands that in 2003 were known to be making PVC free childrens toys (something obviously important to me at the moment). However, they may have changed their policies since then so look for things like "PVC free" on the packaging. Obviously, solid wood toys are typically PVC free too, although anything painted could have other issues.
Brio (sister company of K'nex and Lincoln logs) Ambi toys specifically are listed as PVC free. (Although I'm not exactly sure what it means to be an Ambi toy)
Chicco (nothing on the website, I emailed them, check for updates) Update: 5/6/08. Melody e-mailed me back to say that Chicco is still PVC free! Way to go Chicco!
Gerber- Still PVC free since 1999 (only some are phthalate-free) They lean a little too much on FDA standards to justify the safety of their products if you ask me.
International Playthings (Primetime & Early Start)- I emailed them check back for updates-- Update 05/05- They say they are working toward a goal of being PVC free but gave no indication of when it will happen.
Lego Systems Still GOOD!
Sassy (list of BPA and PVC free toys) I emailed them. UPDATE 5/28- they responded to tell me they are phalate free (both Sassy and Mam products!)
Tiny Love Their blog says all their toys are PVC and Phalate free, although some of the packaging may contain PVC. Update 05/06/08- Sheri from Tiny Love says "Please be assured that all of our products undergo rigorous safety testing and contain no Bisphenol-A, PVC, lead or any other harmful chemicals. We have passed both the American Standard Safety Test (ASTM-963) as well as the European test (EN-71) and have had no recalls on any of our items."
If anyone has information to add to this let me know!
Update: Continued Kudos for Ikea.. their toys are PVC free. I would bet everything they make is PVC free, this is one of the most environmentally conscious mainstream companies I've ever seen. GO IKEA.