Congress Announces Ban on Toxic Chemicals

Feature story - July 30, 2008
In an exciting victory for children in the United States, President Bush signed into law national product-safety legislation that will ban certain chemicals from being used when producing toys. In an agreement announced on July 28th, Congress proposed legislation that will ban the use of six toxic chemicals, called phthalates, that are added to vinyl plastic to make it flexible. Thank you to the 8,000 Greenpeace activists who took action and wrote their members of Congress on this very issue. Your support helped over come 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 or other vinyl household products ranging from shower curtains to floor and wall coverings. The law will also 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 a result of our work, in 1999 the European Union (EU) adopted a ban of phthalates in young children's teethers, while the U.S. chose to not take action. If President Bush signs this new U.S. 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) 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 U.S. chemical policy. Several states are beginning to do this and in 2007 the EU adopted a new chemicals policy that prohibits the marketing of chemicals in products that have not been fully tested for their health effects. 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.