by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
Good morning Senator Brannigan, Representative Perry and Members of the Committee on Health and Human Services. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 10,000 members and supporters and work on a variety of issues including energy policy, land conservation, river restoration and preventing toxic pollution.
NRCM strongly supports L.D. 837 and we thank Representative Hinck for bringing this issue to the attention of the committee. I would like to talk briefly about protecting children from exposure to toxic compounds, and then predominantly focus my testimony on the products covered by this bill and the widespread availability of safer children’s products that do not contain the chemicals in question.
As several others have testified, when children’s minds and bodies go through the delicate processes of growing and developing, they are particularly vulnerable to chemicals that could affect proper development. Sometimes these chemical exposures can come not only through the air we breathe and the water we drink, but also through common products used in children’s daily lives. Because of their body weight, children are far more susceptible to adverse affects from chemical exposures than adults, even at very low doses. Phthalates and bisphenol-A are two unnecessary, dangerous chemicals found in plastics that are causing increasing concern because of their potential effects on children’s development and health. Unfortunately, there currently are no federal laws in the U.S. prohibiting the use of these chemicals, and no way for parents to know whether the products they buy will help – or hinder – their child’s development.
L.D. 837 targets children under age 3 – one of the most vulnerable populations by far and would follow the steps taken by the European Union, and increasingly by US states to protect our children from these unnecessary dangerous chemicals in children’s products.
Well, what products are we actually talking about here? As others have mentioned, phthalates are chemical substances that make PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic soft and flexible. Among many other things, they are used in soft PVC toys and other baby products, such as teething rings, rubber duckies, and bath books. Phthalates can leach out of plastic over time, making children’s natural behavior – exploring their world by putting things in their mouths – especially concerning. Bisphenol-A is an industrial chemical that is used to make hard polycarbonate plastic. It can be found in water bottles (such as some Nalgene-brand water bottles), microwave ovenware and eating utensils, as well as in clear plastic baby bottles. Like phthalates, bisphenol-A can leach out of the plastic – especially when the plastic gets old and scratched. As Dr. Vom Saal mentioned yesterday, at even very low levels, exposure to bisphenol-A can affect our hormones.
These chemicals are hardly essential – and in nearly all cases concerning children’s products, safer alternatives do exist. Plenty of non-phthalate plasticizers for PVC are currently being used in widespread applications for the European market. Many of these plasticizers, such as citrate esters, are inherently safer chemicals and are much more preferable from a public health policy standpoint. In addition, these safer chemicals are seeing real growth in the marketplace. In 2005, the plasticizers market saw 10% annual growth for citrate esters in applications such as toys, and about 7% growth overall. (1)
Using other plasticizers isn’t the only way to get rid of phthalates and/or bisphenol-a; another is using other plastic polymers such as polyethylene. Because of the growing health concerns surrounding phthalates and bisphenol-A, polyethylene is now being used broadly to make a wide variety of toys and children’s products, including baby bottles. This trend is also clearly evident in the marketplace. According to Chemical and Engineering News, in the plastics market, the current growth rate for polyethylene far exceeds the growth rate for flexible vinyl (2).
Several of the leading manufacturers of toys and baby products in the U.S., such as First Years, Fisher Price, Gerber, Lego Systems, Mattel, and Tyco, have begun to take the responsible path and have restricted the use of phthalates over the last few years as a result of health concerns. Whole Foods, the nation’s fastest growing grocery store, which just opened up shop in Portland, has stopped selling baby bottles containing bisphenol-A. In addition, other industries beyond the scope of this bill are taking action. More than 500 cosmetics and body care products companies have promised to eliminate toxic ingredients such as phthalates from their products worldwide. And Japan has banned the use of bisphenol-A epoxies as sealants for food cans.
Also, in response to growing health concerns, legislators around the world are beginning to regulate these unnecessary, dangerous chemicals. In June 2006, San Francisco became the first jurisdiction in the United States to pass a prohibition on the use of phthalates and bisphenol-A in toys and child care articles. Legislators in other states have introduced similar bills, including New York, Maryland and Minnesota. At least eleven countries have already banned or are phasing out phthalates to protect children’s health, and in July of 2005, the European Parliament voted to ban certain phthalates in toys (3). Yet, these chemicals continue to be used in our children’s toys and baby products here in the United States. This double standard is unacceptable, and may be putting our children at risk of toxic chemical exposure.
Today you will likely hear from scientists representing the plastics industry and/or chemical manufacturers claiming phthalates and bisphenol-A are perfectly safe. Of course they are going to argue this. We expect them to. After all, the tobacco industry claimed smoking was safe for decades.
Given the growing scientific evidence demonstrating the health hazards these unnecessary dangerous chemicals may pose to children, we strongly urge you to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach and protect the health of the most vulnerable populations, our children, by passing this legislation to phase out these unnecessary, dangerous chemicals. If safer alternatives are available, why take a risk? We stopped exposing children to lead paint. We stopped using lead in gasoline. We stopped allowing children to smoke.
But currently, no one is minding the store when it comes to protecting our kids from toxic chemicals in toys. Parents cannot be expected to deal with these issues on their own. We must take steps to assist parents and ensure that products on the market are not potentially harmful for children.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
1 “Cutting Out Phthalates.” Chemical and Engineering News. November 14, 2005.