Consumer Product Safety Commission Allows Toxic Toy Production to Continue


Feature story - March 5, 2003
A long awaited decision by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) on the hazards posed by soft vinyl (PVC) plastic toys came down in late February 2003. Despite a 1998 citizens' petition calling for a ban on PVC plastic in young children's products, the CPSC refused to ban PVC from all children's toys. PVC-free plastics are inexpensive and widely available.

39 © Kirk Condyles/ Greenpeace

In fact, the European Union (EU) has had a ban in place since December 8, 1999. PVC plastic products contain high levels of toxic additives that leach out when children mouth and handle them. On November 19, 1998 Greenpeace and 11 other consumer, public health, environmental and religious groups petitioned the CPSC to ban PVC products intended for children under five years of age. The hazardous chemicals listed in the petition included a toxic additive known as DINP. Exposure to DINP can cause liver and kidney damage. Additives such as DINP are used to make PVC plastics soft and flexible. Without additives PVC plastic would be hard and brittle.

Based on these revelations on December 2, 1998, the CPSC issued a voluntary ban on young children's teethers and rattles made of PVC plastic containing phthalates such as DINP. Previously in 1986 the CPSC brokered a voluntary agreement with the toy industry to limit another toxic phthalate known as DEHP. The industry quickly switched to DINP without safety testing or looking at PVC-free plastics such as polypropylene. However, voluntary agreements are not enforceable.

In May, 2001 Greenpeace, released new test data that identified additional toxic additives in PVC household products ranging from vinyl tile flooring to vinyl wall covering. These additives, also bio-available, include very toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and organotins. As a result, Greenpeace asked the CPSC to add these household products to the 1998 petition. --- The CPSC declined.

In 2003, Greenpeace released a new report card grading toy makers and retailers on their use of PVC in their products. These policies range from using PVC-free plastics in only very young children's products, to PVC-free plastics in all products, to the continued use of PVC plastic in all products. Although healthy children of all ages mouth their toys as well as household products, the youngest children tend to be at the greatest risk.