Plastic toy ban not fact based, group says
November 23, 1998
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- An industry-backed consumer group says that the recent ban by retailers on toys that contain plastic-softening chemicals is not fact-based and the toys pose no risk to young children.
Last week, the international toy retailer Toys 'R' Us agreed to remove all direct-to-mouth toys that contain phthalates from its store shelves citing a recent study by the National Environmental Trust, a non-profit environmental group. Their study showed that 33 common soft plastic children's toys -- seven of which could be purchased at Toys 'R' Us -- contained high levels of the chemical.
According to the environmental group, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests these chemicals cause liver and kidney lesions and other damage in laboratory animals and seep out of soft plastic.
Another environmental group Greenpeace has also been campaigning against phthalates and their studies, done earlier, took all of the heat from the consumer group Consumer Alert.
"Greenpeace's scary but science-less attack raises the specter that the chemical leaching out from kids' sucking the toys can cause them serious harm. Yet Greenpeace has no scientific basis for its charges," Consumer Alert said in a statement released Thursday. The release did not address the more recent National Environmental Trust study.
Greenpeace, which supports the study by the National Environmental Trust, has waged its battle against PVC toys since 1997 and gave a lukewarm reception to the partial ban by Toys 'R' Us.
"Toys 'R' Us has finally taken a baby step by recognizing this problem -- but they will still be exposing their young customers to the hazards of soft PVC," said Madeleine Cobbing, a Greenpeace campaigner. "Every parent knows that young children are just as likely to chew on a PVC teletubby as they are on a teether."
The debate over phthalates is particularly heated this time of year as the all-important holiday shopping season is just days from beginning.
Consumer Alert says that the toy ban is based on bad public relations stemming mostly from Greenpeace and not fact-based science.
The consumer group cites Dr. Bruce Ames, a biochemist who is credited for inventing the primary test for carcinogenic substances, as saying that indeed phthalates are toxic when mice and rats are fed massive does of the chemical, but then again about one-half of all chemicals tested, both natural and man-made, are toxic when tested at high doses in either rats or mice.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission, a federal agency charged with the duty of determining the safety of products, is working on a scientific evaluation of phthalates and whether there is a risk of exposure to children. "Exposure is key," the commission said in a statement.
The commission said it plans to release its findings before Christmas.
Thirteen years ago, the commission studied another related phthalate elasticizer, DEHP, and found no evidence of its toxicity, said Consumer Alert. Nonetheless, producers discontinued its use.
The commission's current research on phthalates follows on the heels of European studies done by the Dutch and the Spanish governments which found no significant health hazards from phthalates in children's toys, according to the consumer group.
The consumer group goes on to say that if toy companies drop plastic toys containing phthalates, they will be forced to sell toys that cost more, are less durable and even less understood than phthalates.
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