As you look back on toys you gave to your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews this holiday season, you can rest easier knowing that the kids’ toys you bought are free of some very toxic chemicals called phthalates! The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) banned six phthalates in a federal law celebrating its 10th anniversary of safer toys for children.
In 2008, Congress passed the CPSIA, a massive bill providing the most significant improvements to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since the agency was established in the 1970s. The law gives CPSC more authority to ensure the safety of toys and other products sold in the U.S. BCPP worked with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to include an important provision in the bill that banned the use of six phthalates in toys and childcare articles – three permanently and three provisionally pending a review of the scientific evidence of harm. While the bill passed 10 years ago, the wheels of government unfortunately move very slowly. Full implementation of the phthalates provision wasn’t finalized until October 2017.
What the heck are phthalates?
Phthalates (THA- lāts) are a class of chemicals often used to make plastics soft and toys, like rubber duckies, squishy. The problem is that many phthalates disrupt our bodies delicate endocrine system which controls healthy childhood development. Additionally, exposure to phthalates has been linked to a variety of health issues including breast cancer, obesity and asthma.
What are phthalates doing in kids’ toys?
Phthalates are found in a wide variety of products including plastics, personal care products, food packaging, cleaning products, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, building materials, home décor…and, until the passage of the CPSIA in 2008, children’s toys. Prior to 2008, there was no limit on the amount or type of phthalates that could be used in children’s products; and most parents were unaware they were even there. However these dangerous chemicals have been a major cause of concern for BCPP for over a decade which is when we began our advocacy efforts to ban them from children’s toys at the local, state and federal level. This has been an all hands on deck effort: Our then staff person Gretchen Lee Salter led the charge to successfully ban phthalates from kids’ toys here in California; our Director of Program and Policy Janet Nudelman led a campaign to secure passage of a federal bill that banned phthalates from kids’ toys nationally, and our senior policy strategist Nancy Buermeyer has overseen our organizational efforts to fight off industry attempts to weaken and roll-back the federal ban.
Bringing the Toxic Toys Bill to the finish line
Even through President Bush signed the ban on phthalates in kids’ toys into law in August 2008, the work to pass, implement and protect this important law began years before and continues to this day. With the help of our supporters around the country and our NGO partners, BCPP has been a leader at every step of the process. We started by working to pass California legislation in 2007 that banned six phthalates from children’s toys sold in the state and helped other states to introduce similar laws. In total, 3 states – California, Washington and Vermont – enacted laws to ban phthalates from toys and childcare articles. Buoyed by our success at the state level, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein took up the issue. She introduced an identical bill in congress in the Fall of 2007 and soon thereafter offered the bill language as an amendment to the Senate version of CPSIA. BCPP enlisted the help of environmental health, public health, and consumer advocates, as well as Congressional champions in both the House and Senator, to secure the inclusion of the phthalates provision in the final bill voted on by congress. A huge safety victory for kids and parents!
However, the 2008 passage of the bill was not the end of the story. BCPP, along with powerful NGO allies including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), worked together to ensure the law was implemented in a health-protective way. The bill called for the formation of a blue-ribbon scientific panel to review the body of scientific evidence showing harm from the phthalates banned by the law and additional phthalates that were likely to be considered as alternatives. The panel issued its report in mid-2014, with a recommendation that a total of 8 phthalates be banned from toys. Despite this clear directive, which the science panel took 6 years to issue, the CPSC took another 3 years acting only after NRDC, BCPP and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform (EJHA) filed a federal lawsuit demanding it adopt the science panel’s recommendations. The CPSC issued a final rule codifying the panel’s recommendations in October 2017.
Just when we thought the process was finished and the phthalate ban would finally be fully implemented, another legal obstacle appeared. Industry trade groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in December 2017 in an attempt to undo this public health victory. These industry groups included the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the trade association for the chemical industry, the National Association of Manufacturers and three Texas-based industry groups. Fortunately, the ban on the eight phthalates remains in effect while the lawsuit proceeds. NRDC, EJHA and BCPP interceded in the lawsuit to help protect this important measure, which is intended to keep kids everywhere safe from hormonally active chemicals in the toys they play with and chew on.
Celebrating 10 years of safer kids’ toys
This holiday season, and every year, childrens’ toys will be a little safer thanks to BCPP and all the organizations that fought to make this important federal law a reality. We continue to defend it against attacks by the chemical industry. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the CPSIA and the amazing strides in environmental public health safety since its passage, we look forward to building an even safer future for our children by continuing to enact policies that prevent breast cancer by reducing our exposure to toxic chemicals. It’s difficult work, but as every parent knows, it’s worth it.
Happy Holidays from Nancy, Janet, and all of us at BCPP!
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