19. Clinton Administration Lobbied for Retention of Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Toys

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Source: MULTINATIONAL MONITOR, Title: “Out of the Mouths of Babes,” Date: June 1998, Author: Charlie Gray

SSU Censored Researchers: Scott Gross and Brooke Herron
SSU Faculty Evaluator: Richard Gale

Mainstream media coverage: Associated Press, Press Democrat, November 14, 1998, page Al

The Clinton Administration and the Commerce Department have lobbied on behalf of U.S. toy and chemical manufacturers against proposed new European Union (EU) restrictions which would prevent children’s exposure to toxic chemicals released by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys such as teething rings. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), suggesting that the U.S. government lobbied at the behest of toymaker Mattel and chemical manufacturer Exxon, may help explain the European Commission’s rejection of the proposed emergency ban. A cable from Vernon Weaver, the U.S. Representative to the EU in Brussels, sent “heartfelt thanks” to Washington and U.S. missions in Europe for “making contact” with member state representatives of the EU Product Safety Emergencies Committee. “We are told by Exxon Chemical Europe Inc. that the input was very effective and the weigh-in was invaluable.”

Health authorities in several European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, have recommended a ban on PVC toys, such as teething rings and bath toys. The Spanish government requested action by the EU in March 1998. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride (also known as vinyl), is a common plastic that frequently contains toxic additives. The Front reports that no major U.S. retailers have taken precautionary action, chiefly because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which is responsible for toy safety regulations, has yet to take action.

At issue, writes Mr. Gray, are a family of chemicals called phthalates (phthalic esters or benzenedicarboxylic acid esters). Phthalates are used primarily as plasticizer additives to give vinyl products softness and elasticity. Plasticizers comprise over half the weight of some flexible vinyl products. Ninety-five percent of phthalates are used in the production of vinyl products. Although phthalates vary in toxicity, the most widely-used phthalates, DEHP [di(2- ethylhexyl)phthalate], have been linked in animal studies to a variety of illnesses including reproductive damage and damage to the kidneys and liver. Several agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have labeled DEHP a probable human carcinogen. Other studies suggest that phthalates or their metabolites can interact synergistically with other common chemical contaminants, may be slightly estrogenic, can affect blood pressure and heart rate, and may cause asthma when absorbed on airborne particles.

The simple truth about phthalates toxicity is revealed by the warning label on a bottle of DINP, the phthalate most commonly found in toys. The label on a bottle of DINP, sold to an experimental laboratory, says, “May cause cancer; harmful by inhalation, in contact with skin, and if swallowed; possible risk of irreversible effects; avoid exposure; and wear suitable protective clothing, gloves, and eye/face protection.” Although no standard method exists for the investigation of release of phthalates from toys, a group of Danish scientists found significant migration of phthalates used in toys. Some of Denmark’s biggest retailers then took precautionary action by pulling a number of chewable PVC :toys off their shelves. Since then, a number of retailers in Spain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium have stopped selling PVC teething toys. Several European retailers, including Foetex and FDB in Denmark, and Brio and KF in Sweden, have already recalled PVC toys. The makers of Lego are eliminating soft PVC toys from their product line entirely. U.S. toymakers did voluntarily substitute another phthalate for DEHP in the mid 1980s, after the CPSC looked into the leaching of DEHP from teethers.

The Associated Press story dated November 14, 1998, while listing the deleterious effects of the plasticizers, states that “the process that caused the liver damage in animals does not occur in humans.” No mention is made about the strong lobbying efforts made by the United States on behalf of U.S. toy manufacturers and chemical manufacturers, after which the European Commission rejected the proposed emergency ban.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR CHARLIE GRAY: “Since our story about PVC in toys came out in the Multinational Monitor, media interest has grown tremendously. ABC’s 20/20 ran a major story in November. Many network affiliates and major newspapers, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times [and The San Francisco Chronicle] picked up the story.

“Toy companies have begun to respond. Toys R Us and other retailers pulled vinyl teething rings off their shelves. Mattel announced in September that it would soon stop selling vinyl toys containing phthalate additives for kids under three. Little Tikes said it would go entirely PVC-free. Most manufacturers followed Mattel, pledging only to take the phthalates out of their toys. This fails to address other important problems posed by PVC, including dioxins produced when: it is made or burned, and the many other toxic additives (including some phthalate replacements) used to make it flexible and stable. Safer, naturally flexible plastics are available for toys and other products.

“There has been a considerable backlash coming mostly from the chemical and vinyl industries. That’s because there’s a lot more at stake than toys—‘the industry will go the way toys go,’ one industry official told the Wall Street Journal (November 12). Numerous corporate front groups have blitzed the media with op-eds characterizing the issue as one based on emotion rather than science. Look for future stories about PVC medical products, construction materials, etc.”

For more information on PVC and other toxic chemical issues contact Greenpeace, Tel: (800) 326-0959 or (202) 462-1177; http://www.greenpeace. org/~campaigns/toxics.