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Scientific Panel Confirms Threat to Children’s Health from Exposure to Toxic Phthalates in Kids' Toys

Commission recommends expanding ban to cover additional chemicals in toys and calls for further study of phthalate exposure through food, cosmetics

For Immediate Release: Friday, July 18 2014
Contact: Margie Kelly, 541-222-9699, mkelly@breastcancerfund.org

SAN FRANCISCO—Today a blue ribbon commission of scientists affirmed that an existing ban on a family of toxic chemicals called phthalates should continue, and recommended expanding the ban to include five additional phthalates in children’s toys and child care articles, based on mounting health concerns about children’s exposure to these chemicals. In addition, the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) recommended that every phthalate reviewed undergo further toxicity testing, due to concerns about cumulative health impacts from food-based exposure.

“This rigorous scientific review sets a new course to restrict phthalates not only from toys, but also food and cosmetics, due to a high level of concern that they disrupt hormones and harm the reproductive health of children,” said Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist for the Breast Cancer Fund. “Congress should act now to correct our failed national chemical policies that allow unlimited amounts of chemicals linked to serious health impacts to be added to children’s toys, food packaging, and cosmetics.”

Today’s CHAP report on the health effects of phthalates comes six years after the federal ban on certain phthalates in children’s toys was enacted in response to a national campaign led by the Breast Cancer Fund. The 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, signed into law by President Bush, permanently banned three phthalates: DEHP, DBP, and BBP and imposed an interim ban on DINP, DIDP, and DnOP.*

The CHAP recommended leaving in place the permanent ban on DEHP, DBP, and BBP, and shifting the interim ban on DINP to a permanent ban, based on anti-androgenic activity in all four of these phthalates. In addition, several phthalates not considered by the 2008 legislation, including DIBP, DPENP, DHEXP, and DCHP should be permanently banned from children’s toys and child care articles, according to the CHAP.

The phthalate DIOP was identified as a phthalate that should be banned in children’s toys and child care items on an interim basis. CHAP recommended dropping the interim ban on DNOP and DIDP in toys, but acknowledged potential health risks and called on federal agencies to conduct further risk assessments on these chemicals.

No action related to their use in toys and child care products was recommended for two phthalate alternatives- DMP and DEP - however the CHAP included DEP in its recommendations of phthalates that should be further reviewed for its exposures via pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and food.

Phthalates are chemical substances used to make plastic toys like rubber ducks and bath books soft and flexible. When children put these toys in their mouths, the phthalates can easily leach from toy to child. While the CHAP focused its review on male reproductive effects, phthalates have been linked to serious health concerns including early puberty in girls (a risk factor for breast cancer), birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental problems in newborns, fertility issues, obesity, reproductive harm in males, DNA damage to sperm, and decreased sperm counts.

According to a 2014 study by researchers at UC San Francisco, the levels of all three phthalates under permanent ban since 2008 have gone down in people. Exposure to the three other phthalates—DnOP, DiDP, and DINP—that were provisionally banned has increased. Of particular note is exposure to DINP — the phthalate the panel recommend move from a temporary to permanent ban —which increased nearly 150 percent. DINP, which was recently added to California’s Proposition 65 list of carcinogens, is widely used to replace DEHP in plastics.

A study by the Sunlight Foundation noted that industry groups, including Exxon Mobile and the American Chemistry Council, vastly outnumbered other advocacy groups in appearances before the CHAP: 214 appearances compared to 30.

"Despite industry’s relentless campaign to overturn the ban on these extremely toxic chemicals, we are heartened that the science and concern for the protection of children’s health won out, at least at this step of the process," Buermeyer said. "Now the Consumer Product Safety Commission needs to take the committee recommendations and remove these additional chemicals from children’s toys."

Due to their ubiquity in common consumer products and potential to harm reproduction, phthalates have long been a target of state and federal legislative and market-based advocacy campaigns. In addition to the national ban on phthalates passed by Congress, California, Washington and Vermont have passed laws restricting phthalate use in children’s products.

 *Full Chemical Names DEHP - di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate DnBP - dibutyl phthalate (same as di-n-butyl) BBzP - benzyl butyl phthalate DINP - diisononyl phthalate DIDP – diisodecyl phthalate DnOP - di-n-octyl phthalate

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Phthalate Timeline – Toys

1999: The European Union bans six phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP, DINP, DIDP, DnOP) from children’s toys and child care products.

2005: The California legislature introduces first phthalate ban in children’s toys (AB 319). The Breast Cancer Fund testifies in support of this early ban, but it failed to receive passage.

2006: The city of San Francisco becomes the first municipality to pass a ban on six types of phthalates in children’s toys. The Breast Cancer Fund supports and provides testimony and technical support to the city in support of the ban.

2007: The California legislature passes a ban on six phthalates in children’s toys (AB 1108) in a bill co-sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund. Together with Environment California, the Breast Cancer Fund leads a large coalition of parents, environmental groups and public health organizations in support of this groundbreaking legislation.

2008: Washington and Vermont pass bans on six phthalates in children’s toys using legislation modeled on the California law. The Breast Cancer Fund works closely with advocates in each state providing technical support, strategic guidance and written and oral testimony.

2008: President Bush signs federal phthalate ban into law, enacted by Congress as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The Breast Cancer Fund leads a coalition of diverse activists to ensure this provision was included in the final law and serves as the point organization for the coalition with members of Congress and the Senate.

Permanently Banned: DEHP, DBP,BBP
Provisionally Banned: DINP, DIDP, DnOP
2009: Federal Phthalate Ban Takes Effect

Listing of phthalates on Proposition 65 list
December 2013: DINP listed as a cancer endpoint
April 2007: DIDP listed as a developmental toxicant
December 2005: DBP listed as a developmental toxicant 
December 2005: BBP listed as a developmental toxicant
October 2003: DEHP listed as a developmental toxicant
January 1988: DEHP listed as a cancer endpoint

The Breast Cancer Fund is the leading national organization working to prevent breast cancer by eliminating our exposures to toxic chemicals and radiation linked to the disease.