With Vermont scheduled to become the third state in seven months to ban the use of phthalates in products intended for children, a newly formed group that says it is focused on toy safety is asking legislators to evaluate scientific data before they proceed with further bans.
``Legislation that is not supported by sound science presents a risk to children,'' said Bob Johnson president of the Child Safety Task Force, an alliance recently formed by six groups, including Consumers for Competitive Choice. ``The science is not there to support a ban. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has said DINP is safe for infant toys. Our concern is that bans are going to force into the product stream other [plasticizers] that have not been tested.''
DINP, or diisononyl phthalate, is the plasticizer most commonly used to soften the vinyl used in children's toys.
In addition, CSTF petitioned the CPSC May 21 to appoint a panel to assess the risks to human health from exposure to all plasticizers and to immediately promulgate an interim rule setting limits for DINP in toys and other products designed for children under age 6. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported CSTF's petition, but it is not a member of the alliance.
The agenda of CSTF is similar to that of Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council and the Phthalate Esters Panel of ACC. But Johnson said there is no connection between the groups, saying CSTF has an Arlington mailing address because that is where the group's treasurer is located.
Several people within ACC also said they did not know of any connection, and Marian Stanley, manager of the Phthalate Esters Panel, said she had ``never heard of them.''
But others are skeptical. ``Consumers for Competitive Choice seems to be a pro-industry group that has been advocating for positions also taken by the ACC,'' said Michael Schade, PVC campaign coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Falls Church, Va. The group, which goes by the acronym C4CC, was previously Consumers for Cable Choice, an organization that received funding from several telecommunications firms.
The new ally for the industry comes as the 2008 legislative calendar is winding down in most states, with only Washington and Vermont enacting phthalate bans. The Vermont bill, sent to the governor May 19, was expected to be signed into law May 24, and would go into effect July 1, 2009. It is similar to the California bill.
Bills in 10 other states failed, including Minnesota, where a ban was approved with a two-thirds majority by the House and Senate, but vetoed by the governor May 12. Proposals to ban phthalates still are active in North Carolina, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Stanley doesn't think the legislative interest in enacting phthalate bans will go away.
``I don't know that we can change the momentum because you have the true believers who think you should have zero risk and the politicians who think this is an easy piece of legislation to pass,'' she said.
``However, if we can point to federal legislation accepting the CPSC view that phthalates are safe,'' perhaps in its pending budget authorization, then possibly the momentum could shift, she said. ``The states that have passed legislation tend to feel that it is their duty to protect their citizens and that the feds aren't doing anything.''
CSTF hopes its petition to CPSC to form a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel to evaluate the risks of phthalates and to review and update its previous DINP decision will ease the uncertainty and legislative rush to judgment.
A similar review concluded in 2003 found there was no risk in the use of DINP in mouthing toys for infants. That review, however, took four years, which even Johnson acknowledges is an unacceptable time. ``We should have initial standards in a period of months, not years,'' he said, which is why CSTF asked for an immediate interim rule. ``This is a priority and needs to be done now.''
Jim Conran, founder and director of Consumers First, one of the alliance members, agreed. ``It is the obligation of the federal government and the CPSC to ensure that manufacturing is done in a safe way so parents are confident their children will not be harmed.''
Even if the industry succeeds at the legislative and regulatory level, it faces an even more difficult challenge at the retail level, Stanley said.
``The real, real problem any chemical manufacturer has is the action we are seeing by huge retailers like Wal-Mart and Target that have no experienced technical staff and are making decisions based on hearsay,'' Stanley said.
``They are scared of liability. They all want to be green. They want to make sure they are complying with what people see is the perceived problem,'' she said. ``They want to make sure they are pleasing the customer, but they don't understand there is a risk in trying to have no risk and that switching to something isn't necessarily a step forward.''
The Vermont bill would ban the use of three phthalates including DINP in concentrations exceeding 0.1 percent in toys and child-care articles intended for children under 3 years of age if that product can be placed in the child's mouth. It also would ban three other phthalates exceeding that same concentration level in all toys and child-care articles for children under 3. There is an exemption for hunting and fishing equipment.
The Washington phthalate ban, passed in March, also is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2009. But the veto of two sections of that bill by the governor and the creation of an advisory group to modify some of the remaining provisions and timetables casts uncertainly over the final framework of that ban.
As currently constructed, the bill bans the sale and manufacture of children's products, toys, cosmetics and jewelry intended for children under 12 that contain more than 1,000 parts per million of six types of phthalates.
The first meeting of that advisory group is scheduled for June 3. The California ban goes into effect Jan. 1 and is aimed at a variety of children's products, including baby books, rattles, plastic bath ducks and teething rings.