(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2008) After repeated calls from parents, consumer groups and health experts to protect children from toxic chemicals, congressional lawmakers have agreed on statutory language that would prohibit the use of a family of toxic chemicals found in many children’s products, according to the Washington Post. Legislators are proposing to include this language to the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act (HR 4040 and S.2663). This new ban, set to take effect in six months, will have far reaching implications on the long-debated overhaul of U.S. consumer safety standards.
On Monday, House and Senate lawmakers agreed to prohibit three types of phthalates from children’s toys and to outlaw three other phthalates from products pending an extensive study of their health effects in children and pregnant women. This measure aims to improve product safety and is part of popular legislation to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversees more than 15,000 types of products.
Phthalates are used to soften plastic and are found in homes across the U.S. in a wide range of products including shower curtains, shampoos, perfumes, toys and pesticides, to name a few. They are associated with adverse developmental and reproductive health effects, including low sperm counts. Scientific research has indicated that phthalates act as hormones and children can ingest these toxins by acts as simple as chewing on their plastic toys. Earlier this year, the country’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart; the biggest toy seller, Toys R Us; and Babies R Us told their suppliers that they will no longer carry products containing these chemicals as of Jan. 1, 2009.
This new act by Congress has long been opposed by the chemical industry, which criticized the move saying that it allows for less tested, more hazardous chemicals to be used as substitutes. Leading the charge was Exxon Mobile, which spent a $22 million lobbying budget in the past 18 months to try to prevent the ban. Exxon manufactures diisononyl phthalate, or DINP, the phthalate most frequently found in children’s toys. The American Chemical Council, which represents chemicals manufacturers, stated that there was no scientific basis for Congress to restrict phthalates from toys and children’s products since they are among the most thoroughly studied products in the world.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored the measure, said yesterday that the action is a first step toward moving the United States closer to the European model, where industry must prove the safety of a chemical before it is allowed on 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.
The European Union (EU) has already banned six phthalates from children’s products in 1999 and more than a dozen other countries have done the same. Last year the state of California prohibited their use in children’s products, while Washington and Vermont have since passed similar legislation on use of the chemicals. The EU and California currently prohibit di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), along with diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP). Other consumer products, such as children’s jewelry, cribs and strollers, will also be affected by this new measure and stricter standards for testing will be imposed. These stricter standards have been prompted after a year of massive recalls of tainted toys and other consumer goods.
“This is by far the most robust reform in the agency’s history,” Rachel Weintraub of the Consumer Federation of America told the Journal. “We’re happy.”
President George W. Bush opposes the ban, but many believe that it is too early to say whether he will veto the measure. However, Keith Hennessey, director of President Bush’s Economic Policy Council, wrote to the Senate, reiterating industry stance, saying that a ban could hurt children. “Banning a product before a conclusive, scientific determination is reached is short-sighted and may result in the introduction of unregulated substitute chemicals that harm children’s health,” he wrote.
Phthalates are a ubiquitous class of chemicals and are found in most of the population. Studies out of the University of Rochester Medical School found that male babies born to women with high levels of phthalates in their blood exhibited changes related to low sperm count, un-descended testicles and other reproductive problems. Other studies have connected some phthalates to liver and kidney cancer. Health experts argue that dangers may be more significant from cumulative exposure, because phthalates surround babies not only in toys and products but also in breast milk if the mother has been exposed to the chemicals. Several phthalates have also been listed as potential endocrine disruptors.
Over 1.4 billion dollars worth of phthalates are manufactured in the U.S. annually and many believe the industry has taken a major blow. This new measure may have further implications for the uses of phthalates. Most noteworthy, is that phthalates are among the many “inert ingredients” used in pesticides. Daryl Ditz, senior policy adviser at the Center for International Environmental Law, said industry viewed the ban as a benchmark that might signal a shift in Congress’s willingness to toughen restrictions on toxins.
“The great fear is that if a big, established chemical like this can be driven from the market, what’s next?” he said.
Source: The Washington Post