At the end of July, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act which, if signed by President Bush, will create first-ever national standards for the toxic chemicals lead and phthalates in children’s products.
Phthalates are compounds used in making plastics and are found in many baby bottles, toys and teethers. The additive has been cited in a number of scientific studies as an agent in disrupting normal reproduction and development when ingested by humans. The bill specifies phthalates as “a banned hazardous substance under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act” and “prohibits certain alternatives to those phthalates,” according to the Congressional Record.
A bill passed in May by the Minnesota Legislature would have put a similar ban state wide on the use of phthalates in products manufactured for infants and small children, but was vetoed by Governor Pawlenty. The governor’s veto statement claimed the state prohibition was not “based…science,” and cited a state prohibition as not being “based on established science” and based on reassessment of a ban being carried out by the European Union because the toxicity of Bisphenol A (BPA), another plastics additive whose effects have been closely associated with phthalates.
In a report released this month, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) minimized safety concerns over BPA, stating that the human body metabolizes the substance when ingested in low doses. But environmentalists and food safety activists like David Azoulay of Friends of the Earth Europe have criticized EFSA, saying the agency ignored overwhelming scientific evidence.
“A panel which lacks the necessary expertise and impartiality is saying it knows better than specialists on the substance who are calling for a precautionary approach,” said Azoulay in London’s “Daily Mail.”
In April, the Canadian government banned the on the substance who are calling for a precautionary approach,” said Azoulay in London’s “Daily Mail.”
In April, the Canadian government banned the sale of baby bottles containing BPA, leading some stores here in America to take them off shelves. Retailers and manufacturers, including Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, Lego, Evenflo and Gerber, have all announced plans to phase out phthalates.
Pressure by the plastics industry here in America to downplay certain scientific studies that warn against the negative health effects of BPA and phthalates and to lobby against laws that would restrict their use has been intense. According to figures from plastics industry trade association the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Minnesota had 25,000 plastics industry jobs and plastics shipments totaling $6.3 billion in 2006. That same year, again citing its own figures, the ACC spent $2,886,938 lobbying for chemical and related manufacturing. According to Healthy Legacy, a state consumer group, Exxon Mobil has spent millions of dollars lobbying against the federal bill in an effort to protect its phthalate market.
“This is historic legislation that will protect the safety of our children, and it is long past time to get these toxic toys off our shores and out of our stores,” said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in a prepared statement made after Congress’ ban was sent to the President. Klobuchar testified before the bill’s conference committee and before the full Senate in its debate. Rep. Keith Ellison also signed on as a co-sponsor when the bill was first introduced last year.
“This marks an important shift to a precautionary approach to protecting children’s health,” said Minnesota Sen. Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake), chief author of the Minnesota phthalate legislation, in a statement released by Healthy Legacy. “This is the right way to move ahead to achieve comprehensive reform of our nation’s out-of-date system for regulating chemicals in consumer products,” Rummel said.