The toy industry has apparently decided not to disclose what chemicals are used in its products, ending several months of talks with the group Environmental Defense over what should be publicly revealed about the chemicals used to make toys.
The push from Environmental Defense of New York seems likely to reignite a debate about the chemicals, including plastics, used to make toys and children's products. It is a debate familiar to some plastics companies. Federal regulators, for example, pushed the industry to stop using diisononyl phthalate in PVC teethers and chew toys in 1998 after allegations that DINP was not safe.
ED made the talks public June 11 with an ad in USA Today using Mickey Mouse, Bullwinkle and Mr. Potato Head in ``hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil'' poses under the headline ``What Chemicals Are in Toys?''
ED contends that since the government does not have information on chemical formulation in children's toys, the companies should disclose this information so the public can make informed choices.
``We are not saying `killer toys.' We are not saying `cancer in your doll,' '' said David Roe, a senior attorney with New York based ED. ``The whole point is we don't know. Nobody is going to know until we find out.''
But the leading toy industry trade group rejects the idea that disclosing more information would enhance public safety.
In an April 3 letter to ED, the New York-based Toy Industry Association (formerly the Toy Manufacturers of America Inc.) said it supports the public's right to know; however, it said ``We do not believe that providing the consumer with knowledge of the chemical ingredients of toys will in any material sense advance the safety of toy products or the protection of consumers.
``In fact, it might mislead them,'' TIA said.
Some plastics companies are still smarting from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's push in 1998 to ban DINP, even after the commission said it was unable to find evidence that the exposure harmed children. But ED pointed out that other hazards are only haphazardly eliminated, such as the toy manufacturers agreeing to phase out lead in 1998.
New York-based TIA argues that the toy industry is tightly regulated, and it has the burden to demonstrate to the government that its products are safe.
ED disputed that argument. Government regulators have very limited powers unless they are dealing with one of the handful of substances formally considered hazardous, Roe said.
ED produced letters from both CPSC and the Environmental Protection Agency saying that those agencies do not have information on what chemicals are used in children's products.
``Manufacturers are not required to submit formulations or ingredients of their products to the Commission,'' according to a June 29, 2000, letter from CPSC to Roe. The letter went on to say that ``We do not have comprehensive information on the ingredients of consumer products, including children's products.''
TIA President David Miller declined to elaborate.
Roe said that ED, TIA and executives from the Big Three of toys - Mattel Inc., Hasbro Inc. and Lego Systems Inc. - had ``very substantial discussions'' for several months leading up to the April 3 TIA letter.
``The people we were meeting with and talking with were taking this seriously,'' Roe said.
``At some point after several meetings in Manhattan, someone got cold feet.''
ED hopes the advertisement will convince the industry to come back to the table: ``It is always hard for an industry to think about the public interest unless the public is watching.''
ED has a track record of working with industry and government. It produced a report in 1997 on the lack of chemical health information in the public record. After conducting its own review, the American Chemistry Council essentially agreed and began a multiyear, multimillion dollar research program in a partnership with ED and EPA.