New safety legislation bans chemical found in soft plastics

Consumer Reports News: November 03, 2008 12:07 PM

It’s not just lead-laden toys that will soon be banned from store shelves. The recently signed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA) also prohibits the use of certain dangerous phthalates in children’s products.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals that may pose long-term risks to the development of the reproductive and endocrine systems that regulate a child's metabolism and hormone functions. Phthalates are commonly used as a plastic softener.

Beginning on February 10, 2009, the CPSIA permanently bans the use of three phthalates in children’s toys and child care articles: DEHP, DBP, and BBP. Three more phthalates, DINP, DIDP, and DnOP, will also be banned, albeit temporarily, from children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth and from child care articles. “Child care articles” are those products designed or intended to facilitate the sleep or feeding of children age three or younger, or to help such children with sucking or teething.

Consumer Affairs reported recently that toys made from the soon-to-be-banned plastic are flooding the toy market as retailers rush to rid their shelves of the products. Thus leaving parents in a quandary as it is difficult to tell which toys contain phthalates and which don't. Some of the larger retailers have said they are clearing their shelves of the offending products.

The CPSIA also requires the creation of a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel to assess the safety on the health of children and pregnant women of all phthalates and phthalate alernatives used in children’s products. If the panel determines that these or other phthalates are sufficiently dangerous, they will be permanently banned.

Phthalates  have been found in some household and children’s items, including soft-plastic toys, baby lotions, and perfumes. Research has shown that phthalates can damage the reproductive and endocrine systems, especially when the exposure occurs during infancy. Such “endocrine disruptors” have been linked to increased instances of early puberty, infertility, and endometriosis. The European Union banned DEHP, DBP, and BBP from all children’s toys in 1999, and banned DINP, DIDP, and DnOP from children’s products that are typically “mouthed.”

Although Consumers Union applauds the passage of the CPSIA, we are concerned by the narrow provisions of the interim ban. Like the European Union’s ruling nine years ago, the CPSIA only restricts DINP, DIDP, and DnOP from children’s toys that can be placed in a child’s mouth, such as pacifiers and rubber nipples. Of course, babies and children cannot distinguish between a product that is intended for mouthing and one that is not. Most products in a baby’s hand will likely make it into her mouth to be sucked on, chewed, or tasted.

We urge the CPSC to broadly interpret this ban and restrict phthalate content for any toy that could fit in a child’s mouth.—Reported by Alex Chasick

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