July 29, 2008 -- Congress today approved a nationwide ban on phthalates, a group of harmful chemicals, from children's products after some studies linked them to a variety of long-term health issues.
Phthalates, commonly added to plastic products to make them soft and pliable, are found in a variety of children's products, like teething rings, rubber ducks and soft books, as well as common household items, like vinyl shower curtains, nail polish and paint.
Studies have shown that toxins can be ingested when toys with phthalates are placed in the mouth, making them particularly dangerous in children's toys. Serious long-term side effects, such as hormone malfunctioning, especially in boys, and reproductive defects, have been linked to these harmful chemicals. But the results of these studies are still a source of contention among environmental researchers.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission imposed a permanent ban on three dangerous phthalates -- DEHP, DBP and BBP -- in products marketed to children younger than 12.
In February, Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us and Target banned children's products with phthalates from their stores, beginning in January 2009. Congress' ban will go into effect in six months, which means some toys will remain on store shelves during the holidays.
To learn more about phthalates and what is in your child's toys, check out these links:
For more information on phthalates -- what they are, how people are exposed to them and how they affect your health, check out the Centers for Disease Control's Phthalate Fact Sheet.
HealthyToys.com offers a consumer action guide to toxic chemicals in toys. They list toys by type and brand and rank their overall level of toxic chemicals. They also have an online form, where you can send in a special request to test a product that you are concerned about in your household.
The National Institute of Health's Household Products Database allows you to search through your bathroom, sink and yard to find products and manufacturers that pose a risk to your health. They also have a specific section on phthalates in the "Tox Town" section of the site.
Teach your kids what dangerous chemicals are around your own house and in common household items, with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's interactive house tour.