Our Tivo has been rather anemic since the writers' strike which is probably why we found ourselves tuning in to PBS Now last night. But we're glad we did. The program, "Toxic Toys," was an investigation into the potential harms of phthalates, commonly found in children's toys, and asked why phthalates are banned throughout Europe but not the US.
Phthalates are a class of chemicals that, unfortunately, can be found in a multitude of consumer products including makeup and shampoo, and have been linked to cancer and genital defects. Of greatest concern to parents is their inclusion in children's toys, usually to make plastic toys softer and more pliable. Soft and pliable - exactly what babies and kids like to put in their months, right?
One of the program's interviewees was Dr. Shanna Swan who published a study in 2005 showing a correlation between a mother's phthalate levels and her infant son's genital size. Interestingly enough, the study was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and is used in Europe to support the phthalate ban, yet there has still been little government action to protect Americans against these chemicals.
Since the federal government hasn't stepped in, cities and states are left to fend for themselves. Last year San Francisco became the first city to ban phthalates and the State of California followed suit in October when Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill prohibiting the manufacture, sale and distribution of toys and child care products used by children under the age of three that contain phthalates.
"Toxic Toys" notes that other countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico and Argentina are considering banning phthalates. Senior correspondent Maria Hinojosa asks the provocative question: Is the U.S. the dumping ground for toys made containing phthalates that are banned in other places?
If you missed it on tv, you can watch "Toxic Toys" in its entirety online via the PBS website. Wondering what you can do? The non-profit Healthy Child Healthy World has a list of ways you can get involved including showing support in several states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New York and Washington which have recently mounted efforts to ban toxic chemicals in toys.