Civics & Politics The Environment Health Economics Social Issues Full Archive
NOW on Demand
Week of 3.21.08

Efforts To Ban Phthalates

What are phthalates?

Toys Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastic soft and flexible. For decades, phthalates have been used in toys, perfumes, lotions, shower curtains, medical products and dozens of other everyday household products. Phthalates make plastics softer and fragrances longer-lasting.

There is some evidence that phthalates are potentially toxic. Even in small amounts, phthalates are suspected of interrupting children's hormones—possibly altering the size of a baby boy's genitals, and possibly contributing to reproductive problems when they grow up.

Because children's brains and bodies are developing so rapidly, some scientists believe youngsters are much more vulnerable to phthalates, even in small amounts. This is why many consumer advocates want to remove them from toys, especially when soft toys so often wind up in children's mouths.

International level

Phthalates have been banned in the European Union since 2005. Nine other countries, including Japan, Mexico and Argentina, have also outlawed the chemicals. China, which makes 85 percent of the world's toys, has developed two manufacturing lines, one for the European market and the other like-minded nations that ban phthalates, and another one for the United States and dozens mostly developing and third world countries that don't restrict them.

United States: Federal level

In early March, the Senate passed a bill to reform the Consumer Product Safety Commission, approved in early March, includes a ban on phthalates in children's toys. Now lawmakers need to reconcile the Senate measure with a slightly different version approved by the House of Representatives, whose version doesn't include the phthalate ban.

Tell your senators or members of Congress where you stand on the proposed ban of phthalates. Click here to contact your representatives. Click here to contact your senators.

United States: State level

Last year, California banned phthalates in products for children under three. In early March, Washington state passed an even stricter ban on phthalates in toys.

The other states considering laws to ban phthalates include:

New Jersey
New York
Rhode Island
West Virginia

Learn more about state efforts to ban potential toxins in toys at Healthy Child Healthy World's website.