California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law the first state ban on the use of certain phthalates in toys and child-care products for children under 3.
The prohibition, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2009, is broader than similar laws in San Francisco and the European Union. The California bill is aimed at a variety of children's products, including soft baby books, soft rattles, plastic bath ducks and teething rings.
The ban is significant not only because California represents nearly 30 percent of the North American toy market, but because it could trigger other states and communities to consider similar bans. Proposed bans in Washington and Oregon were unsuccessful in 2007.
``There is enough of a movement for there to be a significant step next year,'' said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for the Los Angeles-based environmental advocacy group, Environment California.
A decision on whether to file a lawsuit to challenge the state bill is not likely before the end of the month.
``We are looking at all of our options right now,'' said Marian Stanley, manager of the phthalate esters panel and senior director of the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council's chemical products and technology division. ``We are preparing an analysis of what it means for flexible vinyls, phthalates and the chemical industry.''
``The biggest potential impact is that you now have a precedent of strong-arming something into law that has no basis in science,'' Stanley said in an Oct. 15 telephone interview.
Stanley also is concerned because the California law is not written as narrowly as similar legislation in the European Union and San Francisco.
The EU restricts its ban to mouthing toys that are about 2 inches or less on each side. The Department of Public Health and the Department of the Environment in San Francisco is developing a specific list of banned products that children are likely to put into their mouth.
But the California law applies to all toys and child-care products for children under age 3. ``So how big can that monster get?'' said Stanley, suggesting that even backpacks could technically fall under the scope of the California law.
Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law on Oct. 14. In a written statement, he said that while he believed the circumstances ``warrant taking action now, I do not believe that addressing this type of concern in the legislature on a chemical-by-chemical, product-by-product basis is the best or most effective way to make chemical policy in California.''
Given the governor's view, the New York-based Toy Industry Association said it regrets the decision of the governor to sign the bill into law.
``We believe this bill represents an unscientific resolution to a political issue,'' the group said in a statement.
Phthalates are plasticizers used to soften the PVC used to make such products.
Most of the six phthalates the California bill bans are not used in toys, according to TIA, with the exception of diisononyl phthalate, or DINP, which TIA said is used specifically because of the safety it imparts to toys.
Some lab animal studies have shown some phthalates interfere with hormonal systems, disrupt testosterone production and cause malformed sex organs. However, a 2003 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded few children are at risk from phthalates because the amount they ingest does not reach a level that would be harmful.