Ban upheld: Toxic toys must come off stores' shelves

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  February 6, 2009 06:37 AM

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It seems like a no-brainer: If the toys you're selling contain something that's harmful to children, you shouldn't sell them.

But you'd be surprised. Sometimes, it takes an act of congress plus a lawsuit to make companies pull the toys off their shelves.

Yesterday, a federal judge upheld the congressional ban barring stores from selling children’s toys and childcare products that contain phthalates, a chemical that softens plastics and also acts as a hormone disrupter. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday, February 10.

Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen filed the lawsuit against the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) late last year, after learning that a law firm had asked the CPSC, on behalf of unidentified clients, to apply the U.S. ban on phthalates to the production, but not the sale of, children's toys. Just two days after the letter was sent, the CPSC agreed. Meaning that while phthalates couldn't be used on toys manufactured after the Feb. 10 cutoff date, existing toys with the harmful chemical could still be sold.

Hence the lawsuit.

Now, I can see the business side of this: The economy is awful, and businesses want to minimize their losses. But from the parental side, all I can think is: Are you kidding me? First lead, and now this?

The law, which was signed by President Bush in September, bans the same six phthalates that have been banned in European toys for nearly 10 years. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, other countries -- including Argentina, Japan, Israel and Mexico have also banned the chemicals. And Toys R Us decided to pull some toys containing phthalates off their shelves by the end of 2008.

Parents, you can't rest easy quite yet: The Toy Association of America says that, based on independent research and "a 50-year track record of safe use," they believe that the phthalates used in toys pose "no significant risk to children’s health." And, as an article at SafeToys.com points out, "any replacement chemicals would not necessarily have such a long history of use and analysis."

Parents, have the lead or phthalate issues changed the way you buy toys?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.



This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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15 comments so far...
  1. I am parent of 5 great kids. In general it seems parents over-react to any possible mention of concerm over chemicals no matter how sketchy the evidence. The knee jerk reaction "if there is any possible chance of harm it should be banned". That is balony. There are thousands of more credible risks that we expose our kids to everyday. The exact same phalates that are included in this law ARE APPROVED for use in medical products. If your child needs an I.V. today, it is coming from an IV bag made with phalates. The FDA uses Fact-based decision making, not hysteria from agenda driven interest groups.

    Posted by Paul 88 February 6, 09 09:05 AM
  1. This is what we need right now. Hundreds of small, owner operated businesses subjected now to "watch groups" looking for a quick buck testing their products for a substance that no one ever heard of last year and suing the retailer. It's a good thing the author does not work for a retailer, who will be sure to layoff more people after this law goes into effect. Look at the legislative history and I challenge you to come to the same conclusion. The retailers were blindsided on this one. Effect: all childrens products must be tested or come off the shelves at the cost of the retailer. Result: small business out of business or laying off.

    Posted by must be a good economy February 6, 09 09:16 AM
  1. I always look for the "CE" logo indicating that the toy is legal for sale in Europe, which as you mentioned has banned phalates for ten years now along with Bisphenol-A and other potentially harmful chemicals.

    Posted by geocool February 6, 09 11:26 AM
  1. We really don't know whether or not phthalates or any other chemicals are safe - because unlike when releasing new drugs - chemicals are considered safe until proven dangerous.

    And when a known-toxin, like lead, is introduced in a factory in China... how could we possibly know about it unless every toy is tested?

    Should we be demanding this?


    Posted by davevn February 6, 09 12:45 PM
  1. I don't know how "Paul 88" and "must be a good economy" sleep at night. We see lead in our kids toys, melamine in our baby formulae, salmonella in our kids' peanut butter and an FDA that admits that it tests almost nothing.

    Yet their religion is - all that matters is money! Again and again we are told we are safe, only to find later that we are not and then (after dead kids or old people) we find that the substance is quietly banned, but still allowed to be sold until all supplies are gone.

    The most egregious is the practice of allowing known substances to be sold in order to save a few businesses (after all, the profits of the rich are paramount).

    Protecting the public is a legitimate role of government. It is failing at this because we believe that a few greedy business people need not be interfered with in their search of wealth.

    Think of it. We all know with certainty that cigarettes are costing us millions in healthcare and causing all of our insurance to be more costly. It has been proven for years to be as bad as any drug could possibly be and yet we are still allowing it to be sold.


    We know that the previous administration took Ronny Reagan's philosophy of protecting big business at all costs and to hell with protecting the public.

    I recently spent an half hour arguing with a person at a major bottled water company about BPAs in my bottled water.
    I was told that the FDA said it was safe. I investigated and found that other countries did not agree and later read that the FDA was starting to admit that they didn't want to hurt the plastics industry. I stopped delivery of water to my home and found a better alternative.

    I don't know about you, but I firmly believe our growing cancer rates are the direct result of the attitude of people like the two mentioned above. I watched my dad die a horrible death because of the cigarettes that he argued (like these two) were not harmful because the industry said they were safe.

    I look at Europe and Canada to see what is safe because our government is the best government that money can buy.

    Posted by seektruthalways February 6, 09 06:24 PM
  1. Until February 17, 2009, there are untold numbers of products present in American households intended for the use of children that are perfectly legal but have not been tested for lead content and/or contain phalates. After February 17, 2009, those products will be "a banned hazardous substance" unless proven otherwise by certified test. I certainly hope that the owners of these hazardous products will immediately remove them from their homes, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, libraries, thrift shops and businesses....for the safety and protection of children. Then I am sure Congress will bailout the hazardous material collectors, transporters, landfill operators with a multi-billion $ stimulus package to build more secure landfills not in my backyard and not any where near anybody.

    Posted by theoldhorse February 7, 09 12:29 AM
  1. So how do you know if a toy has any of the 6 banned phthalates? And what is the "CE logo" found on European toys? I agree with those on the side of caution. Safety first please -not money first!

    Posted by littlel February 7, 09 07:03 AM
  1. If I sat up at night thinking about every little thing that could happent o my daughter or every chemical that might be out there, I'd never ever ever sleep.

    Posted by C February 7, 09 09:33 AM
  1. When it comes to toys, I have definitely taken the approach that the "precautionary principle" should apply. I am not willing to use my family as a guinea pig until the true ramifications of using these materials is all sorted out. Why take the chance on things like phthalates, BPA, etc. when it comes to our children? The effects may not even be realized until well after children have stopped playing with the toys in question, and then it's too late. Yes, it is true that the new legislation may have a deeper impact on small business owners who cannot afford to test, but quite honestly I am going to support the notion of protecting children over profits. I would further suggest that, reasons aside, agencies like the FDA are NOT always making the most informed decisions on behalf of the public so unfortunately it is up to us as individual consumers to parse through the information that is available and make such decisions for ourselves.

    Posted by Sleepymama February 7, 09 11:10 AM
  1. The U.S. government has extensive systems for maintaining the health and safety of its citizens. The Dept of Health, Dept of Agriculture, EPA, and other agencies protect the public.

    Frankly, your remarks sound hysterical and paranoid. Come back to reality if you get the chance.

    Posted by Ralston February 7, 09 10:48 PM
  1. Let's see, the government jumps to ban toys containing phthalates and the such but does nothing to ban tobacco products which have been deemed an addictive drug, causes cancer, drives medical premiums up and kills more people than toys ever will. Why, simply because the government gets tax $$$ from tobacco products but none from toys. Government will do the correct thing when tax money isn't involved but as history has proven, will look the other way when taxes are involved.

    Posted by concernedindividual February 8, 09 09:16 PM
  1. There are enough real dangers in life not to over-worry about the "perhaps"--real ones. Car accidents, sports accidents, house fires, second and eventual first hand smoke, drugs, drinking, etc...these are all the real dangers we need to keep an eye on to keep our kids safe. Sometimes I fear that people become focused on potential hazards (peanut butter salmonella, tomato safety, BPA) and neglect the know hazards. More kids will die in car accidents TODAY than were sickened by peanut butter or tomatoes over the past year. The act of driving to the store to buy new baby bottles might actually pose more danger to your kids than the BPA bottles themselves.

    Posted by bv February 9, 09 02:29 PM
  1. Please note that the CPSC has issued a one-year stay on the manufacturers' requirements to test and certify each of their products. This certification was to be the retailers' assurance that the products meet the new standards. Now that assurance is gone, yet the responsibility of knowing (or at least practicing due diligence) is with the retailers, who have lost the most effective tool that the act gave them. We always try to be certain that our toys are safe; it is how we sleep at night. But the legislation is a poorly crafted, utterly unenforceable mess of legalese. That was the best that our legislators could give us. If you want to see what kinds of toys this legislation keeps out of the hands of children of the United States, check out a company called Selecta. They are awesome, and if you're traveling in Europe, you may want to pick some up. ... two bits

    Posted by windupmike February 11, 09 08:59 PM
  1. Anyone here arguing against children's health should be drawn and quartered and be force-fed BPA, lead, and phthalates.

    Use stinkin' common sense here. The chemicals are dangerous. They deserve to be banned and in fact should have. The EPA is known for being in the pockets of big business, they cannot protect us.

    We don't have to worry about "every little thing", and if you want to feed your child chemicals, don't whine when they come down with liver disease or cancer. But these chemicals are deservedly banned; further, we should ban 99% of chemicals and the remaining ones reduce their use a thousand-fold.

    Posted by Silence Dogood February 13, 09 02:04 PM
  1. Silence Dogood: Come on. No one is against children's health, but we need to use a little, as you put it, stinkin' common sense. How on earth are we gong to ban 99 % of chemicals, most of which are only toxic in huge doses? And what will we replace these chemicals with...other untested chemicals? Certainly, while you agree that we don't need to worry about every little thing, a mass banning of chemicals based on hysteria would seem to go against that.

    Instead, lets _limit_ only those chemicals which pose a proven hazard. But remember, inherent toxicity of a chemical is only one part of the hazard equation. You also need to look at exposure. Just because a chemical contained in a plastic bottle is toxic doesn't mean that there is a high enough exposure to warrant banning the use. Hazard = inherent toxicity x exposure.

    Posted by bv February 15, 09 01:01 PM
 
15 comments so far...
  1. I am parent of 5 great kids. In general it seems parents over-react to any possible mention of concerm over chemicals no matter how sketchy the evidence. The knee jerk reaction "if there is any possible chance of harm it should be banned". That is balony. There are thousands of more credible risks that we expose our kids to everyday. The exact same phalates that are included in this law ARE APPROVED for use in medical products. If your child needs an I.V. today, it is coming from an IV bag made with phalates. The FDA uses Fact-based decision making, not hysteria from agenda driven interest groups.

    Posted by Paul 88 February 6, 09 09:05 AM
  1. This is what we need right now. Hundreds of small, owner operated businesses subjected now to "watch groups" looking for a quick buck testing their products for a substance that no one ever heard of last year and suing the retailer. It's a good thing the author does not work for a retailer, who will be sure to layoff more people after this law goes into effect. Look at the legislative history and I challenge you to come to the same conclusion. The retailers were blindsided on this one. Effect: all childrens products must be tested or come off the shelves at the cost of the retailer. Result: small business out of business or laying off.

    Posted by must be a good economy February 6, 09 09:16 AM
  1. I always look for the "CE" logo indicating that the toy is legal for sale in Europe, which as you mentioned has banned phalates for ten years now along with Bisphenol-A and other potentially harmful chemicals.

    Posted by geocool February 6, 09 11:26 AM
  1. We really don't know whether or not phthalates or any other chemicals are safe - because unlike when releasing new drugs - chemicals are considered safe until proven dangerous.

    And when a known-toxin, like lead, is introduced in a factory in China... how could we possibly know about it unless every toy is tested?

    Should we be demanding this?


    Posted by davevn February 6, 09 12:45 PM
  1. I don't know how "Paul 88" and "must be a good economy" sleep at night. We see lead in our kids toys, melamine in our baby formulae, salmonella in our kids' peanut butter and an FDA that admits that it tests almost nothing.

    Yet their religion is - all that matters is money! Again and again we are told we are safe, only to find later that we are not and then (after dead kids or old people) we find that the substance is quietly banned, but still allowed to be sold until all supplies are gone.

    The most egregious is the practice of allowing known substances to be sold in order to save a few businesses (after all, the profits of the rich are paramount).

    Protecting the public is a legitimate role of government. It is failing at this because we believe that a few greedy business people need not be interfered with in their search of wealth.

    Think of it. We all know with certainty that cigarettes are costing us millions in healthcare and causing all of our insurance to be more costly. It has been proven for years to be as bad as any drug could possibly be and yet we are still allowing it to be sold.


    We know that the previous administration took Ronny Reagan's philosophy of protecting big business at all costs and to hell with protecting the public.

    I recently spent an half hour arguing with a person at a major bottled water company about BPAs in my bottled water.
    I was told that the FDA said it was safe. I investigated and found that other countries did not agree and later read that the FDA was starting to admit that they didn't want to hurt the plastics industry. I stopped delivery of water to my home and found a better alternative.

    I don't know about you, but I firmly believe our growing cancer rates are the direct result of the attitude of people like the two mentioned above. I watched my dad die a horrible death because of the cigarettes that he argued (like these two) were not harmful because the industry said they were safe.

    I look at Europe and Canada to see what is safe because our government is the best government that money can buy.

    Posted by seektruthalways February 6, 09 06:24 PM
  1. Until February 17, 2009, there are untold numbers of products present in American households intended for the use of children that are perfectly legal but have not been tested for lead content and/or contain phalates. After February 17, 2009, those products will be "a banned hazardous substance" unless proven otherwise by certified test. I certainly hope that the owners of these hazardous products will immediately remove them from their homes, schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, libraries, thrift shops and businesses....for the safety and protection of children. Then I am sure Congress will bailout the hazardous material collectors, transporters, landfill operators with a multi-billion $ stimulus package to build more secure landfills not in my backyard and not any where near anybody.

    Posted by theoldhorse February 7, 09 12:29 AM
  1. So how do you know if a toy has any of the 6 banned phthalates? And what is the "CE logo" found on European toys? I agree with those on the side of caution. Safety first please -not money first!

    Posted by littlel February 7, 09 07:03 AM
  1. If I sat up at night thinking about every little thing that could happent o my daughter or every chemical that might be out there, I'd never ever ever sleep.

    Posted by C February 7, 09 09:33 AM
  1. When it comes to toys, I have definitely taken the approach that the "precautionary principle" should apply. I am not willing to use my family as a guinea pig until the true ramifications of using these materials is all sorted out. Why take the chance on things like phthalates, BPA, etc. when it comes to our children? The effects may not even be realized until well after children have stopped playing with the toys in question, and then it's too late. Yes, it is true that the new legislation may have a deeper impact on small business owners who cannot afford to test, but quite honestly I am going to support the notion of protecting children over profits. I would further suggest that, reasons aside, agencies like the FDA are NOT always making the most informed decisions on behalf of the public so unfortunately it is up to us as individual consumers to parse through the information that is available and make such decisions for ourselves.

    Posted by Sleepymama February 7, 09 11:10 AM
  1. The U.S. government has extensive systems for maintaining the health and safety of its citizens. The Dept of Health, Dept of Agriculture, EPA, and other agencies protect the public.

    Frankly, your remarks sound hysterical and paranoid. Come back to reality if you get the chance.

    Posted by Ralston February 7, 09 10:48 PM
  1. Let's see, the government jumps to ban toys containing phthalates and the such but does nothing to ban tobacco products which have been deemed an addictive drug, causes cancer, drives medical premiums up and kills more people than toys ever will. Why, simply because the government gets tax $$$ from tobacco products but none from toys. Government will do the correct thing when tax money isn't involved but as history has proven, will look the other way when taxes are involved.

    Posted by concernedindividual February 8, 09 09:16 PM
  1. There are enough real dangers in life not to over-worry about the "perhaps"--real ones. Car accidents, sports accidents, house fires, second and eventual first hand smoke, drugs, drinking, etc...these are all the real dangers we need to keep an eye on to keep our kids safe. Sometimes I fear that people become focused on potential hazards (peanut butter salmonella, tomato safety, BPA) and neglect the know hazards. More kids will die in car accidents TODAY than were sickened by peanut butter or tomatoes over the past year. The act of driving to the store to buy new baby bottles might actually pose more danger to your kids than the BPA bottles themselves.

    Posted by bv February 9, 09 02:29 PM
  1. Please note that the CPSC has issued a one-year stay on the manufacturers' requirements to test and certify each of their products. This certification was to be the retailers' assurance that the products meet the new standards. Now that assurance is gone, yet the responsibility of knowing (or at least practicing due diligence) is with the retailers, who have lost the most effective tool that the act gave them. We always try to be certain that our toys are safe; it is how we sleep at night. But the legislation is a poorly crafted, utterly unenforceable mess of legalese. That was the best that our legislators could give us. If you want to see what kinds of toys this legislation keeps out of the hands of children of the United States, check out a company called Selecta. They are awesome, and if you're traveling in Europe, you may want to pick some up. ... two bits

    Posted by windupmike February 11, 09 08:59 PM
  1. Anyone here arguing against children's health should be drawn and quartered and be force-fed BPA, lead, and phthalates.

    Use stinkin' common sense here. The chemicals are dangerous. They deserve to be banned and in fact should have. The EPA is known for being in the pockets of big business, they cannot protect us.

    We don't have to worry about "every little thing", and if you want to feed your child chemicals, don't whine when they come down with liver disease or cancer. But these chemicals are deservedly banned; further, we should ban 99% of chemicals and the remaining ones reduce their use a thousand-fold.

    Posted by Silence Dogood February 13, 09 02:04 PM
  1. Silence Dogood: Come on. No one is against children's health, but we need to use a little, as you put it, stinkin' common sense. How on earth are we gong to ban 99 % of chemicals, most of which are only toxic in huge doses? And what will we replace these chemicals with...other untested chemicals? Certainly, while you agree that we don't need to worry about every little thing, a mass banning of chemicals based on hysteria would seem to go against that.

    Instead, lets _limit_ only those chemicals which pose a proven hazard. But remember, inherent toxicity of a chemical is only one part of the hazard equation. You also need to look at exposure. Just because a chemical contained in a plastic bottle is toxic doesn't mean that there is a high enough exposure to warrant banning the use. Hazard = inherent toxicity x exposure.

    Posted by bv February 15, 09 01:01 PM
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