Ore. Lawmakers Consider Chemical Ban
SALEM, Ore. — Pacifiers and lipstick aren't the sort of thing health advocates and business groups normally squabble over.
But the two sides clashed Wednesday over a bill in Oregon that would prohibit the sale of toys and other consumer products for children under 5 that contain phthalates, a chemical used to make plastics more durable and pliable.
Supporters of the bill said the chemical compound could contribute to rising breast cancer rates in women and physical abnormalities in children.
"Phthalates, used in a variety of children's products including soft toys and teethers, have been linked to developmental problems, such as early puberty in girls, male genital defects and reduced sperm quality," said Renee Hackenmiller-Paradis, program director for the Environmental Health Oregon Environmental Council. "Yet, there currently are no laws in the U.S. prohibiting the use of phthalates."
But a toxicologist and representative from the toy industry said the amount of toxic chemicals and exposure periods for children's toys are so low that they aren't a health hazard.
"Anything can be toxic. And the dose, in my opinion, absolutely matters," said James Lamb, a toxicologist with the Weinberg Group, a company that represents a wide range of pharmaceutical and chemical firms. "If you look just what is on your table, salt, water...not too long ago somebody drank so much water that she died."
The Senate committee on Health Policy and Public Affairs heard representatives from both factions as it considered two bills that would ban some products containing phthalates and create a task force to study phthalates in cosmetics. A third piece of legislation urges Congress to re-examine many of the chemicals used in cosmetics, including phthalates.
Joan Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, a trade group with over 500 members, including the manufacturers of Mattel Barbie dolls and Hasbro's My Little Pony, said a ban on children's toys containing phthalates could make those products less safe.
Without the phthalates, she said, toys could be more weak and brittle and create a choking hazard for youngsters.
"A ban on toys is not supported by the science specific to these products and how they are used by children," said Lawrence. "Such a ban does a disservice by needlessly alerting parents and caregivers to a nonexistent threat."
L. Earl Gray, a research biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency, said there is little research on the chemical's effects on humans, but there is a general consensus among scientists about the negative effect phthalates have on the reproductive system of rats, which are used as study subjects.
The panel spent less time on the potential negative effect of the chemical in cosmetics, but public health advocates and environmentalists are increasingly drawing attention to the chemical compound that they say needs further study.
Phthalates have been used widely during the past 50 years in everything from car parts to children's toys to health care devices, to increase flexibility and longevity of plastics.
In 1999, Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization, pledged to eliminate phthalates in their hospital supplies.
And states are starting to give the chemical compound another look.
California, Maryland and New York are considering bills that would ban phthalates in certain products, and the compound has been banned in some goods in the European Union, Japan and Argentina.
"Ninety percent of increased human life span is not due to the wonderful technologies and lifesaving interventions of triple bypass" surgeries and other health technologies, said Gail Shibley, an administrator at Oregon's Department of Human Services.
"But rather, making sure our water is safe, making sure our food is safe, and making sure we are not putting people in an environment which is difficult for them to be healthy."