Congress To Consider Banning Dangerous Chemicals In Children's Toys
In House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings today, scientists presented evidence of the toxicity of a class of industrial chemicals known as phthalates. Found in many children's toys and childcare products, phthalates have been linked to serious health concerns including birth defects, early puberty in girls (a risk factor for breast cancer) and liver cancer.
Phthalates are chemical substances used to make plastic toys like rubber ducks and bath books soft and flexible. When children put these toys in their mouths, the phthalates can easily leach from toy to child. A ban on the use of these chemicals in children's toys and childcare articles was recently included in the U.S. Senate's version of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, but the House version of the bill had no such ban. Today's testimony will inform the bi-partisan Conference Committee that will decide whether the ban is included in the final version of the consumer safety legislation.
Congress is considering this issue at a time when a growing number of scientists and parents are raising concerns about phthalates. In response to these concerns, retailers and manufacturers including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber have announced that they will phase out or eliminate phthalates. California and Washington have passed laws restricting phthalate use in children's products, and 12 other states have introduced similar legislation. Phthalates are also banned or restricted in the European Union and more than a dozen countries around the world.
In today's hearings, Stephen Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, testified about the growing market shift away from phthalates in consumer products and the increasing attention these chemicals are receiving from the states and international audiences. "These new market trends and the legislative activity in the states should be reinforced by federal legislation. Consumer safety and children's health issues shouldn't only be left to individual states to legislate. Congress has the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to provide all of our children with the same level of protection afforded now to the children in only a few states," said Lester.
Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., science director at the Science and Environmental Health Network, urged committee members to take action to eliminate exposures to phthalates, particularly in vulnerable populations. "This is a public policy decision that should be informed by good science, and also by values and common sense," said Schettler. "The scientific evidence is sufficient to act. If we don't, we will miss an important opportunity to prevent disease and disability."
"What's clear from these hearings is that Congress has everything it needs to ban phthalates from kids' toys -- the scientific evidence, the consumer demand, the market support and the clear call for action coming from the states," said Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy for the Breast Cancer Fund. "Congress should seize this historic opportunity to protect children's health by including the phthalates ban in the consumer product safety bill they're finalizing right now."