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You can probably see one from where you're standing right now. A small child, toy in hand. Their glazed-over eyes as they absentmindedly put that building block or plastic action figure in their mouth and begin to gum and drool all over it. Not so fast, says President Bush, who last week signed into law a bill banning six toxic phthalates (pronounced: tha-lates) from children's products.
The ban is part of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, which was originally passed in 1972, and includes items like tracking-labels for children's toys' as well as, increased advertising for products that contain warning labels. The six banned chemicals include: DINP, DEHP, DBP, DIDP, DNOP, and BBzP. While phthalates are found in a wide variety of consumer products (see below), there is greater concern about exposure to infants and small children because of research that points to the effects of phthalates on the development of male reproductive development. The Act also notes that phthalates are linked to breast cancer, decreased sperm counts, birth defects and other health problems. Studies on lab animals have also shown links between phthalates and decreased fertility in females, and altered hormone levels. Yuck.What Is A Phthalate?
Phthalates are plasticizers, or in other words they are added to the chmical goo that makes plastics, in order to give them flexibility. Unfortunately, they are most commonly put in PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC, you may know, is carcinogenic when heated up and there are added concerns that plastic bottles containing phthalates may leach into their contained water when heated. Currently there is no labeling system to identify plastic objects with phthalates.
How Do I Find Phthalates?
According to The Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals by the Center for Disease Control (CDC),
"Many consumer products contain phthalates. Among these products are vinyl flooring; adhesives; detergents; lubricating oils; solvents; automotive plastics; plastic clothing, such as raincoats; and personal-care products such as soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish; and some medical pharmaceuticals. Phthalates are widely used in flexible polyvinyl chloride plastics, such as plastic bags, garden hoses, inflatable recreational toys, blood-storage bags, intravenous medical tubing and children's toys."Whew!
The CDC study also found that "generally, phthalates are metabolized and excreted quickly and do not metabolize in the body." According to The National Center for Women and Families, "phthalates have been found in indoor air and dust, and in human blood, urine and breast milk. Levels are highest in woman and children ages 6-11. African Americans have been shown to have higher phthalate levels than whites."
Several stores, including Wal-mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber, already chose to phase out and ban toys with phthalates several months ago. Sears and K-mart are removing toys with PVC. Several states - California, Washington and Vermont - have all placed restrictions on the use of phthalates in children's toys. Phthalates are widely banned in 14 countries around the globe, including several European countries, Japan, Argentina and Mexico. The Center for Health, Environment and Justice now offers a back to school guide to help parents avoid purchasing items with PVC in them.
In case you're wondering, this is not the same chemical that caused all of the concern over Nalgene bottles. That was bisphenol-A.
Both the American Chemistry Council and Exxon Mobil lobbied against the ban.
::Center for Health, Environment and Justice
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