Congress Bans Phthalates from Toys and Child Care Products
3:27 pm - August 6, 2008
Before last year's fiasco with lead in toys, the thought of the U.S. Congress banning phthalates in children's playthings would have been laughable. But now, in what is being hailed as the first important reform in the 30-year history of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), not only has such a bill passed, but with a veto-proof majority. If you even considered picking up a toy in 2007--when every other doll and truck, it seemed, was found to be contaminated with lead--the reason for its passage will be obvious.
While the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act focuses on ensuring that toys are free of brain-damaging lead, it also targets six types of phthalates, chemicals that may disrupt the hormonal development of children. Three phthalates long prohibited in the European Union--di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP)--will be banned in toys outright. Three others--diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), and di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP) --are banned pending a study of their effects on children and pregnant women. Although the names may be unpronounceable (it's THAL-ates, if that helps), what's important to know is that these compounds make plastics soft and can be absorbed when children put toys in their mouths. From there, they may go on to affect children's reproductive development.
State bills helped open the path for the phthalate ban. California, Washington and Vermont have already prohibited varieties of the compound in toys and other children's products. Businesses also stepped in--earlier this year Wal-Mart and Toys"R"Us announced plans to stop selling children's toys containing some phthalates by January 1, 2009.
The new bill also greatly improves the monitoring of toy safety. The way things have been running, untested toys enter the marketplace and are only recalled if they are found to contain lead once they hit store shelves. The bill turns this process around, requiring that adequate samples of all toys be independently tested for lead and other hazards before they can be sold.
As for lead, manufacturers will have to meet increasingly strict requirements. Current law allows paint on toys to have lead levels of up to 600 parts per million. The allowable level will be reduced to no more than 100 parts per million three years after the bill becomes law. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has said that the standard should be 40 parts per million, and there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
Finally, in a spin-off, the CPSC is also receiving $25 million to create a website for consumer complaints so that action can be taken more quickly.
We applaud Congress for this strong, bipartisan effort, but recommend that parents remain on the alert this holiday season, since the bill will have no effect on this year's toys.