Saturday, February 7, 2009

Are your child's toys toxic?

It seems like a no-brainer: If the toys you're selling contain something that's harmful to children, you shouldn't sell them.

But you'd be surprised. Sometimes, it takes an act of congress plus a lawsuit to make companies pull the toys off their shelves.

This week, a federal judge upheld the congressional ban barring stores from selling children’s toys and childcare products that contain phthalates, a chemical that softens plastics and also acts as a hormone disrupter. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday, February 10.

Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen filed the lawsuit against the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) late last year, after learning that a law firm had asked the CPSC, on behalf of unidentified clients, to apply the U.S. ban on phthalates to the production, but not the sale of, children's toys. Just two days after the letter was sent, the CPSC agreed. Meaning that while phthalates couldn't be used on toys manufactured after the Feb. 10 cutoff date, existing toys with the harmful chemical could still be sold.

Hence the lawsuit.

Now, I can see the business side of this: The economy is awful, and businesses want to minimize their losses. But from the parental side, all I can think is: Are you kidding me? First lead, and now this?

The law, which was signed by President Bush in September, bans the same six phthalates that have been banned in European toys for nearly 10 years. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, other countries -- including Argentina, Japan, Israel and Mexico have also banned the chemicals. And Toys R Us decided to pull some toys containing phthalates off their shelves by the end of 2008.

Parents, you can't rest easy quite yet: The Toy Association of America says that, based on independent research and "a 50-year track record of safe use," they believe that the phthalates used in toys pose "no significant risk to children’s health." And, as an article at points out, "any replacement chemicals would not necessarily have such a long history of use and analysis."

Parents, have the lead or phthalate issues changed the way you buy toys?

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