Months ago when the staff of the Breast Cancer Fund decided to launch a national campaign to secure passage of a federal ban on phthalates in kids' toys, lots of folks told us flat-out we were dreamers. Last week our dreams—and the dreams of a growing environmental health movement—came true. Congress passed (almost unanimously) the Consumer Product Safety Commission Reform Act, a massive toy safety bill that includes a first-ever federal ban on phthalates in toys. President Bush has indicated that he'll sign it.
Of course, this is significant because parents will no longer have to worry about their kids being exposed to these toxic chemicals, which have been linked to serious health problems including early puberty in girls, which is linked to breast cancer later in life. But there is a bigger story here.
With this vote, Congress took an important first step forward on what will be a long road toward reforming the way chemicals are regulated in the U.S. It's not that Congress is ahead of the curve: Washington, California and Vermont have already banned phthalates in toys, as have a dozen countries and the European Union. What's significant here is that federal policymakers are waking up to the reality that sweeping chemical policy reform is needed.
The other noteworthy—downright amazing—part of this victory is the movement behind it. The Breast Cancer Fund led a broad-based coalition of over 60 groups from around the country made up of moms, nurses, the faith community, health-affected groups, environmentalists, legislators and women's health advocates who organized press events, activated their constituencies and—in the process of doing so—helped make this victory possible.
And there were legislative champions: California State Assemblymember Fiona Ma, who introduced California legislation—co-sponsored by the Breast Cancer Fund and Environment California—that resulted in nation's first ban on phthalates in kids' toys; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored the original Senate amendment on phthalates and was fierce in her support of the measure; Sen. Barbara Boxer, who led the Senate negotiations on the phthalate ban and tenaciously defended it throughout three long months of negotiation with the House; and Representatives Henry Waxman, Jan Schakowsky and Diana DeGette, who led the fight on the House side and who served as steadfast and tireless advocates for the ban among their colleagues.
This legislation is a victory for children's health and safety and a major blow to the chemical industry, which spent millions of dollars trying to defeat it. The coalition effort that convinced Congress to support the phthalates ban points to a growing movement calling for major chemical policy reform.
On behalf of the Breast Cancer Fund board and staff, I send out our deep gratitude to every parent, policymaker and public health advocate that helped make this remarkable success possible. We're not resting yet, but it's time to celebrate how far we've come together.