Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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State Senate passes measure to curb, ban toxic materials in 'tots' toys

Haley Davies
San Francisco Chronicle

Democrats in the state Senate mustered the majority vote needed to pass a measure on Tuesday that would ban or curb some toxic chemicals in children's toys, sending the measure to the governor.

"I am extremely happy," said the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. "This has been an extremely tough bill to get through both houses."

The bill, AB1108, passed in a 21-18 vote almost entirely along party lines. Senator Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria (Santa Barbara County), was the lone Republican who voted to curb the use of phthalates, which soften polyvinyl chloride in toys that are intended for children 3 years old or younger.

Ma's bill mirrors a San Francisco law that would ban the manufacture, sale and distribution of the children's products in 2009 if they contain bisphenol A, which is used to make hard, polycarbonate plastic.

"The U.S. has become the dumping ground for phthalates," said Ma, adding that she wanted the same standards for California that the European Union and 14 other countries already have, which ban the use of the chemical.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Sept. 14 to veto the bill or sign it into law. According to a spokesperson for the governor, he will take no official position on the bill until the final version reaches his desk.

Ma credited the bill's last-minute passage to the efforts of Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland. But Ma cautioned that the battle is not over as the governor will be facing intense lobbying from the chemical industry groups that oppose the bill.

"They've been effective in killing any and all chemical bans to date," said Ma of the chemical industry's influence.

Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, who voted against the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday, said he did not think the measure is necessary. A spokesperson for the Toy Industry Association, which also opposes the bill, said phthalates do not pose a serious risk.

"There's a federal agency that examines these kinds of things," said Ackerman. "They've determined this one to not be an issue."

He added that not enough research has been done on the chemicals at this point, and he will recommend that the governor veto the bill. "It's OK to want to protect your kids. ... But you've got to have some scientific evidence to do it"

Ma said she and other supporters are "hoping that the governor will prioritize children and their welfare."

Dan Jacobson, legislator director of Environment California, the nonprofit group sponsoring the bill along with the Breast Cancer Fund of San Francisco, said he's "never been in a Senate fight where the opposition has been so strong, and senators had to work so hard to get to 21 votes. But we finally won with bipartisan support."

The recent recall of toys containing toxic lead raised awareness among senators and assemblyman about the importance of having safe toys, Jacobson said.

"The governor can take action by signing the bill that would ban the use of phthalates from children's toys sold in California."

E-mail Haley Davies at hdavies@sfchronicle.com.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle