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Feb 162009

By John DeFore
Green Right Now

Last week was the start date of a ban, signed last summer by President George Bush, that targets the use of six phthalates in products made for children. Three of the phthalates are permanently forbidden, three are subject to later study, as noted here.

The chemicals, which are added to plastics to make them softer, have been linked to hormone malfunctions and reproductive effects, particularly in boys.  Because the substances’ softening quality makes it particularly likely that objects containing them will be chewed by young children, lawmakers have found risks compelling enough to institute the ban despite objections from the plastics industry. (The phthalate ban, which followed a previous ban applicable just in California, only applies to goods manufactured for use by children, which represents less than 5% of the reportedly $1.4 billion U.S. business.)

But those who started worrying about chewable plastics during the phthalate controversy might want to stay skeptical.

This notice from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission seems to tacitly acknowledge worries about implementation and enforcement of the rule. But equally worrisome is the question of what substances are performing the plastic-softening role now that these phthalates have been outlawed.

In this radio story for National Public Radio, journalist Sarah Varney takes a Mom’s-eye approach to the issue. She gets a few answers, but even the clout of NPR can’t get manufacturers to divulge trade secrets about their wares’ current chemical makeup — much less to reveal whether the new substances are any safer than the old ones.

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