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From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
Is Rubber Duckie a Ticking Chemical Time Bomb?
Many plastics aren’t as harmless as they look
I have been alarmed at recent news about dangerous substances in kids’ toys shipped to the U.S. from China, though I doubt that such concerns are limited to Chinese products. What are the major issues associated with chemicals in child toys?
Carla M., Chicago
Recent concerns surrounding toxic chemicals in children’s toys have focused on phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), a group of chemical compounds typically added to plastics to increase their softness and flexibility, and bisphenol A (BPA), a building block for polycarbonate plastic that is used primarily in shatter-resistant baby bottles. Phthalates are found in numerous industrial and consumer products, including plastic IV bags used in hospitals, fishing lures and nail polishes. One phthalate, diisononyl phthalate (DINP), is commonly used in the manufacture of soft vinyl products made for babies, such as bath books, rubber ducks and teething rings.
Studies have linked BPA to the disruption of hormone function in rats and to increased breast and prostate cancer cell growth, early puberty and obesity in humans. Other studies have linked phthalates like DINP to rodent cancers and genital abnormalities, especially in males.
The city of San Francisco would have been the first U.S. jurisdiction to ban phthalates and BPA from children’s toys and feeding products under a Stop Toxic Toys bill signed by mayor Gavin Newsom in June 2006. But lawsuits backed by chemical and toy manufacturers (and filed by a coalition including the California Retailers Association, the California Grocers Association and the American Chemistry Council) stalled the initiative, which had been set to take effect December 1, 2006.
Then on October 15, 2007, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 1108 (also known as the California Toxic Toys Bill), making California the first state in the country to ban the use of phthalates from children’s products. “We are thrilled that California is taking action to protect our kids from dangerous chemicals,” said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, which co-sponsored the legislation along with the Breast Cancer Fund. “This bill is so important because as children’s minds and bodies go through the delicate processes of growing and developing, they are particularly vulnerable to chemicals.”
The European Union considers phthalates dangerous enough to ban them from children’s products and has ordered the removal of many variations from children’s products and has banned still others, including DINP, from anything that kids might put in their mouths. Environment California and other groups see the EU ban as evidence that alternatives to these plasticizers exist and must be explored in the U.S.
“Many places in the world have to comply with restrictions on phthalates,” says Rachel Gibson, an attorney for Environment California. “It’s a mystery why we sell toxic toys to American kids.”
Until more stringent regulations are passed, consumers can use the recycling codes on plastic products to determine content. If it’s marked Number 7, it’s polycarbonate plastic and contains BPA. If it’s marked Number 3, it’s polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and contains potentially harmful phthalates.
For more information:
• Environment California: www.environmentcalifornia.org/environmental-health/stop-toxic-toys.
• Breast Cancer Fund: www.breastcancerfund.org/site/pp.asp?c=kwKXLdPaE&b=3486437.
Got an environmental question? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek: or e-mail [email protected]. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.