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Lawmakers Agree to Ban Three Phthalates in Children’s Items

Jul 30, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP House and Senate lawmakers agreed to permanently ban three phthalates from children's toys and outlaw three others pending an extensive study of their health effects in children and pregnant women.  Phthalates, a ubiquitous group of chemicals that make plastics softer and more durable, are often found in children's products, perfumes, lotions, and shampoos, to name a few.  A 1999 Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) study found traces of phthalates in all of its 1,000 subjects.

The ban—seen as a major boon to parents, advocates, and health experts who have been fighting for government removal of these toxins from toys—is scheduled to become effective in six months.  The ban is also expected to create a huge challenge for the chemical industry and its ability to stem federal regulation and is likely to point to a shift in favor of safety-minded consumers.  The move was stepped up following last year’s phthalate ban in children’s products by California; Washington state and Vermont soon followed.

Phthalates have been used for decades in plastic production; have been proven to be ingested by simply chewing on rubber toys; and are believed to replicate hormonal activity and cause reproductive problems, especially in boys.  Federally funded research by the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester Medical School, found male babies born to women with high Phthalate levels revealed low sperm count, undescended testicles, and other reproductive problems.  Other studies connect some phthalates to liver and kidney cancer and health experts feel dangers may be more significant from cumulative exposure, a serious issue since phthalates are found in toys, baby and children’s products, and breast milk, if the mother has been exposed to the chemicals.

Although the White House may veto the ban and White House spokesman Tony Fratto said President Bush opposes it, the toy industry favors the ban.  Many feel it is too soon to tell if Bush will veto the ban, part of a larger and popular legislation to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that calls for a lead ban in children's products, provides consumer access to a new database of complaints or accident reports for goods, and allows stiffer fines for violations and enhanced enforcement of consumer safety laws.  Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, and Babies R Us told suppliers they will not sell products containing phthalates effective January 1, 2009; however, this change occurs after this year’s busy holiday season.

The chemical industry has spent millions to defeat the ban in a campaign led by Exxon Mobil, which manufacturers diisononyl phthalate, or DINP, the phthalate most frequently found in children's toys.  Exxon spent a good deal of its $22 million lobbying budget in the past 18 months to prevent the ban, but Senator Dianne Feinstein—Democrat-California—who sponsored the measure, said the action moves the US closer to the European model, where industry must prove a chemical’s safety before releasing it to the market.  "Chemical additives should not be placed in products that can impact health adversely until they are tested and found to be benign," she said.  In 1999, the European Union banned six phthalates from children's products; over a dozen countries followed suit.

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