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Week of 3.21.08

Toxic Toys?

Why does the United States remain one of the few developed countries to allow children to play with toys that some scientists say may cause infertility in boys? The toys in question contain substances called phthalates (pronounced "thal-ates"). While the European Union has banned these substances in products meant for children, there is powerful resistance from the chemical and toy industries to doing the same here.

NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa travels from California, where citizens have successfully gotten the state to pass a ban on phthalates in children's toys, to New York City's prestigious Toy Fair, and to Washington, D.C., to uncover some answers.

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Phthalates help make plastic toys like some rubber ducks and teething rings soft and pliable. But scientific evidence suggests that exposure to phthalates (which are also used in dozens of other consumer items like, makeup, shampoos and shower curtains) may interfere with the sexual development of boys. Last year, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban phthalates in toys. The toy and chemical industries sued the city to block implementation, claiming there's not enough evidence to warrant any action. A similar ban is set to take effect throughout the state of California in 2009.

Investigative Journalist Mark Schapiro, author of "Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power," tells NOW, "By refusing to close the loopholes in EPA laws that regulate chemicals in toys (and other products), the U.S. government is jeopardizing our health, alienating us from the global market, and erasing our role as a world leader in environmental protection."

Is the U.S. falling behind the European Union in regulating chemicals found in products we give our children?

"Toxic Toys?": An Exchange of Views After the Broadcast

Dr. Rebecca Goldin, who was interviewed as part of this program, felt she was misrepresented on the show and that certain key points were not included. She shared her perspective on the website. Read it here

NOW on PBS responds to Dr. Goldin, reiterating its major point that the European Union and some U.S. states are choosing to make policy decisions before the scientific community reaches complete agreement on, or certainty about, a particular chemical's impact on human health. Read the full NOW on PBS response

Related Links:

Government Accounting Office: Chemical Regulation: Comparison of U.S. and Recently Enacted European Union Approaches to Protect against the Risks of Toxic Chemicals [pdf]

USA Today: Toy safety steps back into national spotlight

MOMS: Making Our Milk Safe

Healthy Toys

Oppenheim Toy Portfolio

Center for Investigative Reporting: About Exposed

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: Search website for information on chemicals in toys

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: 1998 Study on Phthalates in Children's Products