Toxic toy: the gift that keeps on giving

The economy is bad and everyone expects retail sales to be substantially off. But parents will scrimp on presents for each other to make sure their kids get presents they want. Whether we approve or not, we do it for our kids. I assume it's hardwired into our brains somehow. But in the waning hours of the Bush administration, we are still getting the same old crap and they don't give a second thought to putting our kids and grand kids at risk:

Congressional supporters of a new law meant to protect children from dangerous chemicals are trying to make sure that the government enforces the legislation as they intended.
Congress in August passed a landmark consumer safety law that raises standards for toys and virtually bans several hormone-like chemicals called phthalates in products for children under 12.

Lawmakers wanted toys with the controversial chemicals to be off the market when the law takes effect Feb. 10, according to a statement from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., co-author of the ban.

Last week, however, a staff attorney at the agency responsible for carrying out the new regulations -- the Consumer Product Safety Commission -- released a legal opinion stating that stores may continue to sell toys with phthalates, as long as those items were made before Feb. 10. That could allow toys with phthalates to remain on the shelves for years, with no way for parents to know which toys contain the chemicals, Feinstein says. (Liz Szabo, USA Today, h/t mcjoan at DailyKos)

How bad are phthalates? I really don't know. Like BPA, there's an accumulating body of animal evidence and the beginnings of some epidemiological data. As with BPA, it's the hormone-like effects that worry public health scientists because they are active at extremely low levels characteristic of typical environmental exposures. There are many different phthalate compounds in use and they are all over the place. A couple of months ago we hosted a seminar speaker who, like me, runs a very large research program at a famous research university in the northeast. The topic was his current work on testicular dysgenesis syndrome, and while I don't recall at the moment what model compounds he was using to study it, I distinctly remember him saying in relation to a question about BPA that what he was really worried about were phthalates.

Europe is ahead of the US in phasing out the ones of most concern but even when Congress mandates a ban for children's toys, the Bush administration does everything they can to frustrate the law. Just a reminder that while he's history in 50 more days, he can still do lasting damage in that time. Lasting, as in the "remaining lifetime of a little child."

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This is what a pro-family policy looks like, right?

Kids toys aren't the only ones made with phthalates. Many "adult" toys are rumored to be made with them too. I also see adults chewing on plastic pens, the kind with squishy-grips. Even coffee cups and kitchen utensils have squishy-grips that may be phthalated PVC's. Is it practical to try and get them off the market altogether?

george: Phthalates are everywhere. 90 - 95% of Americans have them in their tissues. They are responsible for the "new car smell." But some are probably worse than others and for some it is their metabolites that are the worrisome agents. So we need to know more about which is which and which is bad and meanwhile, get them out of as many items as possible. They are plasticizers and aren't chemically bound to the plastics whose properties they are modifying. They should not be in children's items, at the very least. That would be the place to start. And this isn't the way to do it.

Thanks, even if the answer is a bit depressing. I am stumped for why the Bush administration seems dead-set against environmental safety regulations! Some 'culture of life' they turned out to be.

Hardwired into our brains? Revere, the amount of money parents spend on gifts is strongly affected by how much tv they watch - much like most other spending.

Just tell me Legos aren't riddled w/phthalates or my kids are totally screwed.....

"I am stumped for why the Bush administration seems dead-set against environmental safety regulations!"

Money. Any regulation that requires business to modify their practices by taking into account something dangerous causes profits to drop. Since that cannot be allowed, the Bush administration put industry hacks into the watchdog agencies like the FDA, EPA, and the USDA as well as BLM and any other agency that watches over business to protect people from shoddy practices.
Life doesn't mean squat to anyone in the Bush administration. Very telling was the Mrs. Bush seniors snobbery during Katrina and her donations to her son's charity (aka tax write off).

llewelly: You caught me using a shorthand argument. What I meant to say (which you may also disagree with, but it's different than you construed it as a result of my lack of clear writing) is that what I take to be hardwired into parents is a concern for the next generation sufficient to entail sacrifice for them. The hardwired part is my assumption that if we didn't instinctively and involuntarily fear for and care for the next generation we wouldn't have made it as a species. That instinct can be manipulated by advertising, clearly.

It's great to try to get phthalates out of kids' toys. But has anyone ever seen a real toddler in action? The whole world is their toy. They make no distinction between toys meant for them and all the rest of the things we use in daily life. Do we make an absolutely extreme effort to restrict what they can put in their mouths, or do we try to ban harmful plastics from the things we use in daily life? That would be much harder to pull off politically, of course, but it would make a lot more sense.

By biologist (not verified) on 01 Dec 2008 #permalink

biologist: Quite right. But just for the record, when we were pushing to get phthalates out of those soft teething rings, etc., some of which were close to 50% unbound phthalates, it was a tough hill to climb. Even the low hanging fruit was pretty tightly connected to the Tree of Money. So while I'd like to get rid of phthalates altogether, I'm glad we took at least one big step. Or at least I thought we did.

There has to be some kind of penalty when toxic content is used in our children's toys. They put those things in their mouths and play constantly with them. It's unfair that they can be essentially damaging to their health.