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Calif. bill would ban chemical in toddlers' toys

Liz Szabo
USA Today

California could become the first state to ban controversial chemicals from children's products.  The state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that bans six types of phthalates. The chemicals soften plastic products such as baby toys and have been shown to interfere with the human hormone system.

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In animal studies, the chemicals have been found to increase the risk of certain birth defects and cancer. California lists several phthalates as reproductive toxins.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has until Oct. 14 to act on the bill, has not announced his decision. The bill would take effect in 2009.

The measure, which would ban the chemicals in most products intended for children under 3, such as teething rings and rattles, comes at a time of heightened concern over toy safety. Manufacturers have recalled thousands of toys this year because of safety concerns over lead paint, magnets and other hazards.

Success in California could reignite campaigns to restrict phthalates in other states, says California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat and author of the bill. She says 14 countries and the European Union have banned phthalates in toys or are phasing them out.

Ma says she narrowed the focus of her bill on children because their developing brains and hormonal systems make them especially vulnerable.

Studies show virtually all Americans have been exposed to phthalates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found phthalates in everyone tested.

The bill has support from groups such as Breast Cancer Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, the National Environmental Trust and the California Nurses Federation.

But it faces vigorous opposition from some industry groups.

"It's a terrible bill that doesn't have any basis in science," says Marian Stanley of the American Chemical Association.

Phthalates, which are found in vinyl, aren't used in pacifiers, which are usually made from silicone, Stanley says. Most of the phthalates included in the bill rarely are used in baby toys, says Joan Lawrence of the Toy Industry Association. One of the chemicals, DEHP, is used in toys for older children, such as beach balls. Another phthalate, DINP, is used to make baby toys less brittle. Lawrence says an analysis commissioned by the toy association has found DINP to be harmless for children.

Dan Jacobson of Environment California says parents want to know their children's toys are safe.

"The question is, 'How much poison is OK to be in a rattle?' " he says. "Chemical companies will say it's such a small amount that it doesn't matter. Our argument is, 'If it's toxic, get it out.' "

If the California bill becomes law, Lawrence predicts manufacturers would remove phthalates from all toys sold in the USA rather than make two versions of their toys. "It would push companies to move to materials that are less tested," she says.

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