The European Union did it in 2005. Twelve countries around the world have their own laws supporting it. The Governor of California signed it into law last year. The Senate already passed a version of the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act that includes a ban on the six most common phthalates in kids’ toys and childcare articles. So why are some members of the U.S. House of Representatives opposing a ban on phthalates in children’s toys?
Let’s start with the reasons why our elected officials should support the ban: phthalates, which make plastic toys like rubber ducks and bath books soft and flexible, have been linked to serious health problems including birth defects, early puberty in girls (a risk factor for breast cancer), testicular cancer in men and birth defects in baby boys. Basically, these chemicals mess with our reproductive and hormone (endocrine) systems. Four out of six of the phthalates are listed as known human reproductive toxins on California’s Prop. 65 list. Two of the phthalates are regulated as hazardous waste by the EPA. The six phthalates named in the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act are the most prevalent in children’s toys. Banning them from kid’s toys would seem like a no-brainer, right?
On June 25, the House and Senate Consumer Product Safety Commission Act conferees had their first face-to-face (and public) meeting. They have been reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the CPSC Act for about 6 weeks now and only have a few big issues left to address — including the phthalate ban in kids toys. The conferees showed their hands fairly quickly with several key Democrats strongly defending the need for a ban on phthalates in kids' toys. However, a number of the House conferees stated strong opposition.
Here's what makes the story even more interesting: it's not the toy industry — or the retailers — that are lobbying hard against the phthalate ban. It's Exxon Mobil — one of the largest manufacturers of DINP (the primary phthalate used in toys) in the country — and its trade association, the American Chemistry Council.
Phthalates are byproducts of petroleum production, so companies like Exxon-Mobil gain marginal profits from their use. Nonetheless, Exxon Mobil has been lobbying hard against the ban. Ironically, Exxon Mobil also makes one of the safer alternatives to phthalates. But that hasn’t stopped the oil giant from going all out in opposition to it.
Exxon Mobil has already spent $3 million in lobbying this year, and shelled out a total of $17 million in lobbying dollars last year. But hey, they can afford it – last year the corporation broke the record for profits earned by a US corporation, earning $40.6 billion. That profit breaks down to $75,000 per minute: more money generated each minute than 70% of Americans earn all year.
The opposition to the phthalate ban are manufacturing doubt — just like the tobacco industry did 30 years ago — around science that has been firmly established by independent scientists who don't have a financial stake in the outcome of their studies.
Scientific studies have demonstrated the hazards of phthalates in children’s toys, and major toy manufacturers have already voluntarily taken a lead in eliminating these hazards. The Senate is standing firm in their support of a ban on phthalates in kid’s toys. However, a handful of House conferees remain unconvinced. Congress has everything they need to ban phthalates from kid’s toys: the public health mandate and parental concern; the body of scientific evidence; the existence of safe alternatives to the phthalates that would be banned by the Senate provision; the clear call to action from the states; and the precedent created by the passage of phthalate bans by the European Union and approximately 14 other countries.
Public health advocates and parents agree: it’s simple: the House conferees should make children's health their top priority and support passage of a ban on phthalates in kids' toys.