WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Nov. 25, 2008 -- A consumer watchdog group is urging parents to avoid buying
soft plastic toys this holiday season because of a risk that the toys may
contain toxic chemicals.
Toys containing the chemicals, called phthalates, can no longer be
manufactured or imported after February 2009, according to a product safety law
that passed Congress over the summer.
But the group says the Consumer Product Safety Commission is allowing the
toy industry to circumvent the law. The agency wrote a letter last week telling
manufacturers they can still sell their existing stocks of phthalate-containing
toys even after the ban takes effect in February.
"They're giving the industry a loophole," says Liz Hitchcock, a
public health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften vinyl and other plastics.
Congress banned use of the chemicals in toys because of evidence they can have
health effects including early puberty, reproductive defects, and lower sperm counts
U.S. PIRG offered the following tips for avoiding unsafe toys:
The new law stands to increase the budget and personnel at the Consumer
Product Safety Commission and give the agency tougher recall authority.
The agency's move on phthalates sparked angry reactions from several
Democratic members of Congress, who accused the Bush Administration of avoiding
the intent of the new law.
Julie Vallese, a Consumer Products Safety Commission spokeswoman, says that
the agency was not trying to give toy makers a way out of meeting new rules on
phthalates. She said the wording of the law sets new standards for phthalates
but does not automatically ban their sale in toys.
"Where U.S. PIRG's criticism should be is on Congress. If they don't
like the language that they used, Congress has the authority to fix it,"
Vallese tells WebMD.
Joan Lawrence, vice president for safety standards and regulatory affairs
for the Toy Industry Association, defends the industry's safety record.
"The industry has been massively inspecting and testing toys since last
year and government has too," she says. "The fact is, there are just
far fewer issues. There's strong science that says phthalates are safe as used
Lawrence is critical of advice to avoid purchasing soft plastic toys. "I
don't know that that's helpful for parents," she says. "Many soft toys
don't contain pthalates, so parents will be avoiding a lot of toys for no
SOURCES:Trouble in Toyland, the 23rd Annual Survey of Toy Safety, U.S. Public
Interest Research Group. Nov. 25, 2008.Liz Hitchcock, public health advocate, U.S. PIRG.Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., letter to CPSC general counsel, Nov. 21,
2008.Julie Vallese, spokeswoman, Consumer Product Safety Commission.Joan Lawrence, vice president for safety standards and regulatory affairs,
Toy Industry Association.
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