Dear EarthTalk: I have been alarmed at recent news about dangerous substances
in kids toys shipped to the U.S. from China, though I doubt that such concerns
are limited to Chinese products. What are the major issues associated with
chemicals in child toys? -- Carla M., Chicago, IL
Recent concerns surrounding toxic chemicals in childrens toys have focused
on phthalates (pronounced THA-lates), a group of chemical compounds typically
added to plastics to increase their softness and flexibility, and bisphenol A (BPA),
a building block for polycarbonate plastic that is used primarily in
shatter-resistant baby bottles. Phthalates are found in numerous industrial and
consumer products, including plastic intravenous (IV) bags used in hospitals,
fishing lures and nail polishes. One phthalate, diisononyl phthalate (DINP), is
commonly used in the manufacture of soft vinyl products made for babies, such as
bath books, rubber ducks and teething rings.
Studies have linked BPA to the disruption of hormone function in rats, and to
increased breast and prostate cancer cell growth, early puberty and obesity in
humans. Other studies have linked phthalates like DINP to rodent cancers and
genital abnormalities, especially in males.
The city of San Francisco would have been the first U.S. jurisdiction to ban
phthalates and BPA from childrens toys and feeding products under a Stop Toxic
Toys bill signed by mayor Gavin Newsom in June 2006, but lawsuits backed by
chemical and toy manufacturers (and filed by a coalition including the
California Retailers Association, the California Grocers Association and the
American Chemistry Council) stalled the initiative, which had been set to take
effect December 1, 2006.
Then on October 15, 2007, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed
into law AB 1108 (also known as the California Toxic Toys Bill), making
California the first state in the country to ban the use of phthalates from
childrens products. We are thrilled that California is taking action to
protect our kids from dangerous chemicals, said Dan Jacobson, Legislative
Director for Environment California, which co-sponsored the legislation along
with the Breast Cancer Fund. This bill is so important because as childrens
minds and bodies go through the delicate processes of growing and developing,
they are particularly vulnerable to chemicals that could affect proper
The European Union considers phthalates dangerous enough to ban them from
childrens products, and has ordered the removal of many variations from
childrens products and banned still others, including DINP, from anything that
kids might put in their mouths. Environment California and other groups see the
EU ban as evidence that alternatives to these plasticizers exist and must be
explored in the U.S. Many places in the world have to comply with restrictions
on phthalates, says Rachel Gibson, an attorney for Environment California.
Its a mystery why we sell toxic toys to American kids.
Until more stringent regulations are passed, consumers can use the recycling
codes on plastic products to determine content. If its marked #7, its
polycarbonate plastic and contains BPA; if its marked #3, its polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) plastic and contains potentially harmful phthalates.
CONTACTS: Environment California,
Breast Cancer Fund,
Dear EarthTalk: What are the best sources out there for environmentally
friendly consumer products? I dont want to have to drive all over creation for
green laundry and other cleaning products or to find carpets, bedding and other
necessities that wont bring chemicals into my home. -- Vanessa G., via e-mail
Although green-friendly goods are starting to show up just about everywhere,
finding all the right products is still not as simple as a one-stop trip to the
mall or major grocer. However, there are several reputable websites, mail order
catalogs and storefront retailers that cater to the eco-motivated consumer.
Online shoppers need not steer their web browser any further than Gaiam.com.
The company sells, via its website and a printed catalog, a wide range of green
itemsfrom phosphate-free detergents and organic cotton bedding to compact
fluorescent light bulbs and backyard composting kits. In 2000 Gaiam acquired
RealGoods, the nations foremost retailer of solar living products, including
solar water heaters, energy-efficient lighting and household battery chargers.
Beyond mail order endeavors, the merged company also gets green goods out into
mainstream retail outlets via partnerships with Target, Borders and others.
Another good one-stop shop for green consumer goods is Green Home, which
sells thousands of environmentally responsible home products online. From
bedding and table wear to paper goods and lunchboxes, Green Home has the green
consumer covered. Green Home was founded by Linda Mason Hunter, author of The
Healthy Home: an Attic-To-Basement Guide to Toxin-Free Living, because she was
having trouble sourcing environmentally friendly home items. Green Home also
publishes the online magazine Living, a repository of feature articles on
various aspects of living a greener lifestyle.
If youre more inclined to browsing store aisles than websites, natural foods
markets like Whole Foods and Wild Oats (now being acquired by Whole Foods) carry
a large number of green lifestyle products on their shelves. These stores arent
just about organic produce anymore, and now stock everything from green
detergents to cookware.
Looking for more durable kinds of goods? The best one-stop source for green
building materials is Ecohaus (formerly the Environmental Home Center), which
stocks and ships a wide range of building materials, household equipment and
supplies, kitchen and bath fixtures, flooring, countertops and cabinets, paints,
finishes, wall coverings and home energy systems. The company has three stores
in Portland and Bend, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, and also sells online.
For those harder-to-find green goods, check out EcoSeek.net, which bills
itself as the Internets first green product search engine. The site includes
links to and in some cases reviews of more than 6,500 different green products
from over 300 merchants. While its no one-stop shopusers purchase individual
items direct from individual merchantsit does make for some interesting
browsing. Another good online stop is EcoMall, which lists thousands of socially
responsible manufacturers and distributors of just about every type of green
CONTACTS: Gaiam, www.gaiam.com;
Green Home, www.greenhome.com;
Ecohaus, www.ecohaus.com; EcoSeek,
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