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Sarah Janssen’s Blog

Court Agrees: Phthalates are banned from toys effective next week!

Sarah Janssen

Posted February 5, 2009

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 NRDC scored a big victory today when a federal judge ruled in our favor in a court case against the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The CPSC had previously ruled that although Congress had set a date of Feb. 10th, 2009 for banning phthalates in toys, it would still be OK for phthalate-laden toys manufactured before this date to be sold indefinitely.  This misguided CPSC decision would not only have confused consumers but resulted in continued exposure to these toxic chemicals.

 NRDC and our partner group, Public Citizen, disagreed, filed a lawsuit and this week went to court over this ruling, just one week before the ban was supposed to take effect.

 Today's opinion, concurs with what NRDC argued, it was the intent of Congress when they passed this law to ban phthalates from toys effective Feb. 10th, 2009 and no toys sold after this date should contain any of the six phthalates identified in the law.

This ruling gives parents some peace of mind knowing that after next Tuesday, it will be illegal to sell toys with phthalates. Even with all my scientific expertise, I can't pick up a rubber ducky and tell what kind of plastic it is or whether it contains phthalates. Now parent's won't have to play that guessing game.

 Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) are chemicals used in many common consumer products, including as softeners of plastic children's toys -- like a rubber ducky. Some phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that interfere with production of the male hormone testosterone, and have been associated with reproductive abnormalities. Numerous animal studies have linked prenatal exposure to certain phthalates with decreases in the male sex hormone, testosterone, birth defects of the genitals, and reduced sperm production.

 However, there are a few wrinkles in what is otherwise a huge win for the health of our children.  

Last week the CPSC issued another ruling saying that while manufacturers will still have to abide by the law, they are going to delay the testing and certification requirement by one year. That means that while it will be illegal to sell toys with these six phthalates,  there is no verification that the toys on shelves will comply with law.

 This delay in the testing and certification is due to the fact that although the CPSC has known for nearly 6 months that these changes were mandated by law, they have spent their time, energy and resources seeking ways around implementing protective measures for our children.

 Instead of finding ways to properly implement this ban and provide reasonable exemptions for certain manufacturers, they have devoted their time to stalling and hindering this process.  Today in America our top retailers such as Wal-Mart and Toys R Us are taking stronger measures to protect our children than the government agency charged with doing so.  

We hope, with the advent of a new administration in the White House, CPSC's lack of strong leadership is resolved.   Just yesterday, four members of Congress asked for the resignation of the CPSC head, Nancy Nord, and asked President Obama to appoint new leadership at the CPSC.  

We agree, we need leaders who recognize the importance of protecting our children's health and who don't put industry profits before the well-being of future generations.

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Sarah NatividadFeb 5 2009 04:09 PM

You think this is a good thing? Let's see how good a thing it is when there is now NOTHING available for infant feeding and care. CPSIA has NO testing exemptions for phthalates for things made of materials like cloth and wood in which no phthalates are found. The only things that will now be available for babies will be made of plastic by major manufacturers who can afford the testing, which makes the expensive lead testing CPSIA requires look like chump change.

At least the rats in the phthalate studies that ended up with reproductive abnormalities will be safer, though! Show me the human who's been affected by phthalates... well, aside from the the people in Congress who have never had a pair to begin with.

Tracy BarnhartFeb 5 2009 04:29 PM

This is unbelievable! People who are for this law do not understand what it actually is doing! This law is a law based in fear and not science. Supporters of this law are trying to ensure that all toys are made by the mega-manufacturers. Hmm, wasn't one of them the the one that violated the ban on lead in paint anyway? These consumer groups need to get small business owners and scientists on their staffs before they run around screaming "but its for the children!"

I don't want lead or phthalates in my toys either but I have read the law and I don't see how this judge thinks that phthalates are retroactive.

Debbie BaillieFeb 5 2009 04:41 PM

I agree with both people above. You obviously have not taken a good enough look at this badly constructed law. You are so interested in looking good that your rationality goes out the window. Nancy Nord and CPSC has done the best they can to provide guidance on CPSIA. The stay on the COC requirement is to protect those small businesses who have ALWAYS produced the safe products for children. The decision for the stay will save thousands of fabulous businesses and cottage industry from being bankrupted overnight. You people should think with your heads and not with your donation sheets. The people who were responsible for producing and selling the toxic stuff were going to be the one's to benefit most from the bankruptcy of the good guys. Do your research before you go any further in getting the safe stuff OUT OF THE MARKET.

Chuck MillsFeb 5 2009 05:22 PM

I also agree with the people above. The fact that phthalates have been used for more than the past 50 years in blood bags, medical tubes, IV sets (how much more intimate contact can there be than with blood cells?) should be proof enough of the non-effect of the kind of levels detectable in everyday items. Of course there will be effects if children are fed the proportionate levels that are given to lab animals........

SariFeb 5 2009 06:59 PM

I own a specialty toy store. The toys that I sell have been phthalate free for years. I had no toys recalled except for Thomas the Tank, and that includes the toys that were made in China. I have written & gotten COC's for most of my products. I am doing my best to comply with the law. I have not heard from the CPSIA about rules, regulations etc. I have learned all that I know from ASTRA. American Specialty Toy Retail Association. The big guys, Hasbro, Mattel etc, that sell to the big guys are the ones that had the toy recalls. Remember 56 Polly Pockets? Unfortunately, they will be the ones supplying toys for your child because the small manufacturers, the creative artists can't afford the multiple testing fees per product. We all want safe toys. That is why I choose to buy from most companies that do not service Walmart or Toys R Us. I am in the business to provide quality, safe, innovatiove, developmental & educational toys for your child. Unfortunately, some of my suppliers are now closing their doors. We all lose.

Gina Solomon, MD, MPHFeb 5 2009 07:40 PM

As a physician and colleague of the author, I'd like to offer a few thoughts, since Dr. Janssen is currently seeing patients in clinic and can't respond until later.

The issue here is that the science on the hazards of phthalates (in both animals and humans) has progressed to a point that it is hard to understand why anyone would knowingly administer these substances to children. In the health care industry, we acted first to remove phthalates from plastics in blood bags and other medical devices used in the nurseries and Neonatal Intensive Care Units. Now we need to get these substances out of products that go into babies' mouths.

California passed a law back in 2007 to get phthalates out of toys and children's products, and Congress acted on this issue six months ago. The toy companies have had plenty of time to get these substances out of their products.

I'm sympathetic to folks who are concerned about the costs of testing, but I really don't have sympathy for companies that act as if they didn't know this was coming. Continuing to knowingly sell products containing these chemicals to children is malpractice.

AlexFeb 5 2009 08:22 PM

The US levels are too high, agreed, they should be lowered and eliminated. Will this address the real issue? I don't think so. It simply is an easy argument for you when you include the child sympathy card. ADDRESS EVERY ISSUE!! Every manufacturer. Ever wonder what all those fabulous smells are in your AUTO? The combination of several chemicals concentrated in a semi sealed chamber. Have you tried to tackle the auto industry? If you really care shuffle your soap box that a way and shout at the top of your lungs. HOT CARS OUT-GAS TOXINS! I think children are exposed to far more chemicals environmentally than through any toys. How many cases of lead poison were reported when Thomas Trains went south? None.
Now that Toy's R Us donated 4.7 million worth of outdated toys to the Marines will you find the time to challenge them? A grass roots effort to correct an industry does NOT start with the Government and lobbyist it starts in the private sector. Individuals with true concerns and a passion for life. The same business sector your naive efforts could decimate. Thank YOU for spreading fear in such unsettled times.

Sarah Janssen @NRDCFeb 5 2009 11:27 PM

Thank you for all of your comments. There are solutions and answers to many of the problems that have been raised here. It is also important to differentiate the decision that was reached today (that upholds a congressional ban on the sale and manufacture of toys containing phthalates) and the stay sought by CPSC that will delay the requirement to test toys until the details are figured out and the proper exemptions are made, these are separate issues.

I've done my best to address the concerns you've raised in the following blog entry:

bkFeb 6 2009 12:45 AM

In late January, I intentionally visited four of the larger stores in a Wisconsin community that also serves a large rural area. Wal-Mart's baby department was almost devoid of cloth diapers, blankets, and some basic necessities. They were selling at deep discounts abundant amounts of day wear though including out-of-season clothing for infants (but no winter items were found in the entire department), that did not have the new labels (a huge amount of clothing was for baby girls). The only garments with new labels (they had undergone the new testing and certification) were garments for 18-month-old to about size 2 for boys. There were no old label garments in that size, by the way, for the boys, so I assume they had run out and were forced to put the new labeled items in that size on the floor. It was obvious that Wal-Mart was forcing customers to buy the old labeled goods first, and when those were gone, they would put the new labeled items on the floor. As I said, it was pretty obvious that Wal-Mart was trying to avoid losing one red cent. Guess they really aren't all that concerned about children.

bkFeb 6 2009 12:56 AM

Whoops, forgot to ask if you have any links to primate or human phthalate studies documenting negative outcomes? Thanks!

Courtney @NRDCFeb 6 2009 01:16 PM

Bk- I'm sure Sarah has plenty more links, but here are some that I've found from previous correspondence with her.

Animal study showing evidence of "reproductive abnormalities" in males:

Study showing "altered semen quality":

Human studies showing phthalates in breast milk, and looking at reproductive hormones in infants:

Coalition of groups including CDC looking at urinary levels of certain phthalates in US population:

EmmeFeb 8 2009 08:18 PM

AMEN to all who see what a ludicrous bill this is! On the 10th, I will probably close...but because of the lead issue. We make crystal tees...very modest designs and evidently they are dangerous to least according to the very smart people who wrote this bill that is not based on science!

After initial panic thinking I had seriously missed something...I mean my kids wear these all the time and I am harming them...eekkk,,,I had no idea! I have been unable to find one incident of a child being harmed by a ss6 glass crystal...that is about the size of a pin head. I consulted 2 pediatricians who told me this is have to worry about leachable lead. The lead does not leach out a glass stone unless it is put in a acid based wet solution. And if the child were to be able to get the mighty glue to release them from the tee...which is really hard...I tried and couldn't do it and almost broke my tooth...the doc's said kids would pass the stones hole which in turn would mean no lead is seeping into their body. It isn't like eating a flaking paint chip that disintegrates. The doc's thought this was ridiculous. I am not laughing.

I have years of hard work that is going down the drain...and why b/c Mattel who started this mess in the first place decides to take out small business. People wake up! Anyone with a small business in America...especially in the childrens industry should be ticked. What are we going to do about it? I am ready to march my butt to D.C.

Everyone needs to contact They have been lobbying on the behalf of small business especially this issue and my senator said they have done a great job.

And what should scare you even more than the idiots who are making decisions about our business, is the fact that businesses are being raided in CA for lead! Do we live in America? This is crazy!! I was directed to another website were one uncertified tester with an XRF gun is encouraging people to turn people in....she herself asked if she should based on her testing! Hello, lawsuit!

Sooo many people, do not understand this law...including the people who wrote it and the people charged to enforce it. Call the CPSC more than once and ask them the same questions over and over. I guarantee you, you will get three different answers.

Sooo many people still do not know about this law. So, to start turning people in is vindictive and rude! Give people a chance to catch up and make changes based on what they have learned.

I got a few test results back from a certified lab last week...good news is our stones did well. Evidently, the company we sue new of this law and each batch of stones they use they use less lead. The bad news is, b/c of fear we have lost 2 clients. And store after store thinks they will be raided, fined or imprisoned.

God Bless America!

HollyFeb 10 2009 04:10 PM

For those that support this law, have you really read it? I' waiting for clarification on the latest developments, but as the law was originally written, my 100% certified organic blankets made with low-impact dyed front and trim fabric (in other words, no lead or other heavy metals used in the process) and undyed/unprocessed hemp/silk blend satin were required to be tested for lead and phthalates. There is no form of plastic in my baby blankets! But I would have to spend a minimum of $300 per finished sample for testing. For my product line, that's 144 tests for every fabric combination in every size!
If you are so worried about the safety of your children's toys, think about this: lead has been banned in the U.S., including its use in paint on toys since the '70's. So we already had a law in place to deal with the lead issue! So to solve the problem, we create another law? Where's the logic? So now, with testing, we are rewarding the same companies that outsourced manufacturing and brought the tainted items into our country to begin with because they are the only ones who produce in such large quantity to afford the testing required.
Thanks for putting us little guys out of business by supporting this law. BTW, we are the ones you turned to when you couldn't trust the large companies products and you decided "Made in the U.S.A." was the only safe bet!

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