Most children are not at risk from exposure to a phthalate that had been used widely in children's teething products in the United States, but toddlers who routinely mouth toys for more than 75 minutes a day may be at some risk, according to a new federal government study.
The study from the Consumer Product Safety Commission looked at diisononyl phthalate, which had been widely used in children's teethers and chew toys until most manufacturers phased it out under pressure from CPSC in 1998.
The report, released June 15, found that DINP generally poses no risk to people, or if it does, the risk is very small.
``For the majority of children, the exposure to DINP from DINP-containing toys would be expected to pose a minimal to nonexistent risk of injury,'' the commission said.
But the report's executive summary also said that children as old as 18 months could take in nearly 2.5 times the recommended maximum daily intake of DINP.
``This implies that there may be a risk of health effects from DINP exposure for any young children who routinely mouth DINP-plasticized toys for 75 minutes/day or more,'' the report said.
The Toy Industry Association interprets the report as a clean bill of health for DINP.
``It's really what we expected, in that it's a vindication of DINP as we use it in children's toys,'' said David Miller, president of New York-based TIA.
TIA used to be the Toy Manufacturers of America Inc.
Miller dismissed CPSC's statement that there is an implied health risk for toddlers who mouth more than 75 minutes a day.
``They are grasping at straws,'' he said. ``The scientists never say a 100 percent positive. We don't see it as anything serious.''
Miller said TIA will encourage its members to go back to using DINP.
Marian Stanley, director of the Phthalate Esters Panel of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va., said, ``We're welcoming the report as strongly supporting our position that DINP in consumer products do not present a health concern for children.''
She said the CPSC's conclusions are the latest in a string of similar reports on DINP's safety: the panel led by C. Everett Koop, a National Toxicology Program study and a European Union classification of DINP as not requiring labeling for harmful effects.
CPSC commissioned the full-blown study in 1998, after it came to the preliminary conclusion that children were not likely to suffer harm from DINP exposure. At the time, CPSC urged manufacturers to remove the chemical as a precaution, and many did.
The report also noted that there are scientific uncertainties about how DINP affects children.
Greenpeace said the report indicates children can be exposed to DINP levels that cause harm in laboratory animals. The group also said that there are no reliable numbers on exposure to DINP through the skin.
The CPSC report, Greenpeace noted, said ``the chemical has not been tested for carcinogenicity in young rodents, an important limitation, given that infants and toddlers are the ones most exposed to DINP.'' The tests have been done on adult rodents.