US Congress Announces Ban on Toxic Chemicals

Feature story - 5 August, 2008
The US Congress has sent President Bush legislation that will make toys safer for little tots and infants. The bill bans the use of six toxic chemicals, called phthalates, that are added to vinyl plastic to make it flexible.

Toxic chemicals banned in toys.

Thousands of our supporters wrote members of Congress to help overcome heavy lobbying by ExxonMobil who manufactures phthalates.

The legislation will cover products made for children up to 12 years of age, ranging from baby teethers to Barbie dolls. Unfortunately, the new law will not cover vinyl products that aren't playthings, although every parent knows that everything in the home has the potential to be sucked on or put in a child's mouth. Vinyl products not covered by the legislation include car safety seats, clothing, children's furniture and other vinyl household products ranging from shower curtains to floor and wall coverings. The law also does not cover other chemicals such as bisphenol-a (BPA), which has been found in polycarbonate plastic baby bottles.

Greenpeace's Toxics Campaign

Since 1996 Greenpeace has led global campaigns to eliminate the use of these chemicals in toys and other consumer products. We were the first organization to expose that vinyl toys contained toxic chemicals after testing a wide range of children's products.

As one industry scientist admitted, phthalatesare easily released from vinyl products like water from a "moist sponge" whenchildren chew or suck on them. Eliminating exposures to toxic chemicals iscritical, especially among young children. Phthalates present a number ofhealth conerns; some are classified in Europe as 'toxic to reproduction' whileothers are toxic to the liver and kidney, albeit at higher doses.

If President Bush signs this new US law, it will permanently eliminate the use of three phthalates used in vinyl children's products. It will also ban three additional phthalates until more thorough safety tests are completed.

Eliminating Toxic Dangers

As one industry scientist admitted, phthalates are easily released from vinyl products like water from a "moist sponge" when children chew or suck on them. Eliminating exposures to toxic chemicals is critical, especially among young children. Phthalates can have a wide variety of health effects ranging from deformation of reproductive organs to damage to kidneys.

Vinyl plastics or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can contain more toxic additives than any other plastic. Phthalates are added to make vinyl soft and flexible and can account for 20 to 30 percent of the product ( read our 2001 report This Vinyl House). Other additives that have been found in vinyl include heavy metals such as lead.

Congress and the President Must Lead

In order to address these toxic hazards, Congress must take a bigger step by overhauling US chemical policy. Several states are beginning to do this and in 2007 the EU adopted a new chemicals policy (REACH) that prohibits the marketing of chemicals in products that have not been fully tested for their health effects

 andstipulates substitution of hazardous chemicals by safer alternatives. In 2009, Congress should finish the job and enact comprehensive reform of U.S. chemical policy to eliminate these toxic hazards in products and require the use of safer substitutes that will protect our families.

However, this new law is a critical first step that ExxonMobil spent millions to stop, and will likely lean on President Bush to veto. If you'd like to help you can call the White House today at +1 (202) 456-1414 and urge President Bush to sign the Consumer Product Safety Commission Authorization bill.

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