STATS ARTICLES 2005

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"Toxic" Toys Not "Toxic"
November 22, 2005
Trevor Butterworth
Naughty PIRG doesn't play nice with science; Europe banned phthalate in toys over objections of its own scientific advisory committee

Here's what PIRG say about the toxic dangers of chemicals in toys:

• Even though the European Union has banned or imposed wide restrictions on the use of six phthalates in toys and childcare products, some manufacturers of children’s products continue to use phthalates in toys for the U.S. market. Phthalates, a class of chemicals used to “plasticize” or soften otherwise hard PVC plastic material, have been linked to reproductive defects and other health problems.

• In response to consumer concern about phthalates, some manufacturers are labeling their products as “phthalate-free.” The U.S. government, however, does not regulate the “phthalate-free” label or ensure that products labeled “phthalate-free” actually do not contain phthalates. To test the reliability of the “phthalate-free” label, PIRG commissioned laboratory tests of eight soft plastic toys labeled as not containing phthalates. Of the eight toys tested, six contained detectable levels of phthalates.

CPSC should ban phthalates in toys and other products intended for children under five and work with the Federal Trade Commission to take immediate action to ensure that toys labeled “phthalate-free” do not contain phthalates. In addition, CPSC should team up with the Food and Drug Administration to require manufacturers to stop using toluene, xylene, dibutyl phthalate, and other toxic chemicals in nail polish marketed for children.

STATS has already noted how PIRG is less than rigorous when it comes to establishing scientific evidence. But let's recap the salient points regarding phthalates in toys:

In February 2003, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) rejected PIRG’s petition to ban plastic containing the phthalate DINP in toys for children aged five and under. The CPSC’s decision that there was no demonstrable risk was based on studies showing the rate that DINP migrates from vinyl toys and on the way children “mouth” toys.

A child would have to suck on a toy for 39 minutes for there to be a potential risk; however, on average, children mouth toys for just 1.9 minutes per day.

And in August of the same year, the European Union’s Institute for Health and Consumer Protection produced a risk assessment report for DINP, which concluded that:

“The end products containing DINP (clothes, building materials, toys and baby equipment) and the sources of exposure (car and public transport interiors, food and food packaging) are unlikely to pose a risk for consumers (adults, infants and newborns) following inhalation, skin contact and ingestion….

The indirect exposure via the environment is unlikely to pose a risk to humans following the main route of exposure, the oral route… As combined exposure of adults is almost exclusively related to occupational exposure, the overall assessment indicates no concern for adults. For infants, combined exposure which is mainly related to exposure from toys and via the environment is not considered of concern.”

The European Union regulates on the principle of precaution: but this doesn't mean that Euro-tots are safer than American-tots when it comes to phthalates; it means that European politicians don't require scientific proof to ban chemicals.

PIRG believes Americans would be safer with a similar regulatory system. And when it comes to precaution, the organization practices what it preaches, continuing to claim that phthalates are "linked to reproductive defects" in humans not only in the absence of any proof, but even after STATS and an expert panel under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health, found that the study PIRG was basing this claim on didn't say this, suggest this or prove this.

STATS wishes everyone a happy evidence-based holiday.