Toxicologist Tim Zacharewski, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Michigan State University, submitted this op-ed column on the impact of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) on the plastics industry as it relates to the new phthalates regulations. The column is timely because the Senate will hold a hearing tomorrow (June 16) on the confirmation on Inez Tenenbaum as chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. If confirmed, Zacharewski notes, Tenenbaum will inherit the responsibility of implementing this controversial new law and oversee the review processes of phthalates and other plasticizing alternatives. What follows is Zacharewski's column: This week, the Senate will hold a hearing on the confirmation on Inez Tenenbaum as Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). If confirmed, she will inherit some of the trickier issues associated with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which went into effect earlier this year. The CPSIA was passed by Congress last summer in an effort to increase chemical regulation on toys and children's products. But the law is having a negative impact on businesses, including manufactures of vinyl plastic toys and children's items. Most problematic is that the CPSIA imposed an interim ban on the manufacture and sale of certain plastic softening agents called phthalates until a comprehensive review is conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Phthalates include several different compounds with different characteristics and toxicity profiles. The CPSIA specifically bans three low molecular weight (LMW) phthalates from use in toys but exercises constructive caution in its treatment of three high molecular weight (HMW) phthalates (DINP, DIDP and DnOP). The law puts an interim ban on DINP, DIDP and DnOP, which are not deemed to be harmful in most circumstances. These compounds have been proven safe by multiple government and independent evaluators including the CPSC and the National Toxicology Program (NTP). But there are serious consequences of banning a safe substance -- even temporarily. Although the objective of the CPSIA was to protect children against dangerous chemicals, it may actually expose them to toxic alternatives by requiring manufacturers to use untested substitutes. In banning a thoroughly tested and safe class of chemicals from children's toys, plastic toy manufacturers are left with no choice but to use substitute chemicals with uncharacterized health risks that have not been tested or approved by any U.S. government agency. Government scientists from the Consumer Product Safety Commission have testified to Congress that plastic toys made with these phthalates presented no health risk to children. Moreover, in a recent report featured on National Public Radio, CPSC scientist Marilyn Wind spoke for the agency when she said "We could not ban DINP because there was no risk of injury to children." Ironically, in order to lift the temporary ban now in place, DINP and other phthalates will undergo another Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel (CHAP) review that will be organized by the Commission Product Safety Commission. The incoming chairman to the COSC will be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the CHAP review process on these chemicals is carried out in a timely and effective manner. It is crucial that the Commission expedite the review process for phthalates and alternative plasticizers, as use of untested chemicals in products is not only a hazard for children, but creates uncertainty for businesses. It will be important for any new CPSC chairman to be educated thoroughly on the science of phthalates and to recognize the different characteristics and toxicity profiles of phthalates. DINP is a phthalate that has been previously approved and tested by the CPSC. Consequently, before banning a tested chemical with a history of product safety, it would be more appropriate to establish the toxicity of untested substitutes.
Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act still isn't working
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