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Court maintains ban on toxic chemicals in children’s products and toys

Researchers have found that even low levels of exposure to certain phthalates can lead to hormonal disruption and reproductive harm, as well as lasting damage in children’s brain development.

Children's playroom with plastic colorful educational blocks toys. Games floor for preschoolers kindergarten. interior children's room. Chalkboard in background.

A federal court is maintaining a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) ban that keeps some of the most harmful phthalate chemicals out of kids’ plastic toys and other children’s products, such as pacifiers and teething rings.

"There can be no doubt that it’s appropriate to ban phthalates," says Jared Knicley, senior attorney at NRDC, which previously had gone to court alongside the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) to finalize the ban in 2017. "Leaving the ban in place ensures that there’s no gap in this important rule’s protections."

Although the court rejected most of the arguments made by the chemical industry, it also found flaws in the CPSC’s rulemaking process. The agency will have an opportunity to fix those errors before the court takes up any remaining issues with the ban. "As with any action affecting the health of children, the agency should move quickly to address the procedural issues raised by the court and reaffirm its decision," Knicley says.

Phthalates, a family of chemicals often used as a plastic softener, are frequently found in everyday consumer products such as vinyl flooring, plastic food wrap and perfumes. Researchers have found that even low levels of exposure to certain phthalates can lead to hormonal disruption and reproductive harm, as well as lasting damage in children’s brain development. U.S. government data show that for many phthalates, exposure is significantly higher in children between ages 6 and 11, as well as in people of color.

"It’s important to remember that for many children, phthalates in toys and pacifiers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to exposure to these harmful chemicals," says Michele Roberts, national co-coordinator of EJHA. "This is especially true for Black, Brown, Native Indigenous Peoples and poor children across the country, who face greater exposure to phthalates."

Because of the chemicals’ health risks, Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation that outlawed three of the most hazardous phthalates in children’s toys and products in 2008. Seven years later, in 2015, the CPSC banned an additional five phthalates — a move secured in 2017 in part thanks to legal action by NRDC, EJHA and BCPP. Industry interests, however, led by the National Association of Manufacturers and Exxon, soon challenged the ban.

"The CPSC’s bans were years overdue in the first place," Roberts says, "and we urge the agency to act quickly to confirm these protections for the most vulnerable among us: our children."

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Expert Blog.

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