Washington, DC – While New York parents shop for gifts this holiday season, only a fraction of the chemicals commonly found in children’s toys are tested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A new report released today by “Safer Chemicals, Health Families” entitled Poison in Paint, Toxins in Toys reveals that more than 650 household products contain one of two toxic chemicals of high concern, including BPA in 280 plastic toys. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced her plan to overhaul America’s chemical testing standards with legislation to protect children, families and our environment from toxic toys, clothing and bedding.
“I was shocked to learn that there is absolutely no government testing required for the chemicals in the products my kids use every day,” said Senator Gillibrand, a mother of two young boys. “It’s outrageous that everything from toothbrushes to my son’s dishware could be leaching hormone disrupting or cancer causing chemicals. We need to do better. This plan will give the EPA the authority to regulate chemicals in our everyday products and empower consumers to keep our families safe.”
On Long Island, there are 381,928 families with children under 12 and 419,160 children under the age of 12.
# of Families with Children Under the Age of 12
# of Children Under the Age of 12
More than 84,000 chemicals are currently listed on the EPA’s database, many of which are used regularly in consumer products, but there are three classes in particular that have been found to cause hormone disruption and reproductive deformities when children are exposed in-utero and at young ages. The three major classes of chemicals which children are directly exposed are:
- phthalates, found in soft plastic products like teething rings, balls, and plastic dolls;
- BPA, found in hard plastic toys, such as action figures, electronics, and playmobil toysets; and
- flame retardants found in children’s pajamas and bedding.
Earlier this year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), for the first time set new maximum standards for phthalates in children’s products in response to numerous studies that showed that significant exposure to phthalates was associated with hormonal problems such as obesity and low sperm counts in males. Similarly, many companies have voluntarily removed BPA from their products because mothers have long been concerned about lab studies that link high levels of BPA in the body to impaired hormonal and neurological functions. However, the EPA does not currently have the ability to properly test and regulate potentially harmful chemicals.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is currently outdated. Three decades after its original passage, there are over 84,000 known chemicals listed by the EPA, but the law only requires testing of 200. Only five chemicals have been regulated (Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons, dioxin, asbestos, and hexavalent chromium) with only PCBs successfully being banned. This has allowed chemicals, such as BPA, phthalates, and flame retardants to be used in children’s toys, baby bottles, clothing and other products with no oversight.
Under current law, only manufacturers are responsible for testing chemicals to determine their potential effects on health and the environment. The only way the EPA can get involved is if they can conclusively demonstrate that a chemical presents “unreasonable risk” to public health and/or the environment. Under this framework, chemicals can be introduced into commerce before any independent safety analysis and manufacturers and producers assume no burden of a chemical’s health and safety. In addition, current law says that EPA’s regulatory actions must not create “unnecessary economic barriers to technological innovation.” This has meant that substances like asbestos, which present a well-documented risk to human health, can not be banned since there are no direct alternatives. Manufacturers have also been allowed to categorize and hide the identity of numerous substances under the Confidential Business Information (CBI) umbrella – preventing regulators, health professionals and consumers from accessing critical information about potentially harmful chemicals.
Modernizing the country’s chemical management system is an issue with direct health and economic impacts in New York. A recent report by the “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition” estimates that by 2020, New York would save nearly $300 million dollars in health care costs associated with just a 0.1 percent decrease of exposure to disease-causing chemicals. The rise in chronic disease, such as asthma, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems, leads to increased days lost from work and school, hospitalizations, and death. Many of these diseases have been linked to exposure to environmental contaminants. Providing the tools necessary to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals is long overdue.
Gillibrand Plan to Overhaul Chemical Testing
1. Safe Chemicals Act
Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Safe Chemicals Act, legislation introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), which requires chemical companies to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals and the EPA to evaluate safety based on the best available science. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Require chemical companies to develop and submit safety testing data for each chemical they produce. EPA would have the authority to require any additional data needed to make a safety determination before a new chemical is introduced into commerce. The submission of this data is not currently required by TSCA prior to commercialization, and can only be requested by the EPA once they have reason to believe that a chemical poses a risk to the population.
- Require EPA to prioritize existing chemicals for testing based on risk into one of three classes: immediate risk management, safety standard determination, no immediate action to facilitate a risk-based approach for analyzing the approximately 84,000 chemicals currently in the EPA’s database.
- Allow the EPA Administrator to issue orders or initiate judicial proceedings to protect the public from chemicals that may “present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.”
- Provide the public, market and worker access to reliable chemical information by publishing a database housing chemical information and decisions made by EPA about chemicals.
- Establish a Children’s Environmental Health Research Program, which requires the EPA to establish an advisory board on children’s health as it relates to toxic chemicals, provides grants to support research into children’s vulnerability to industrial chemicals.
- Incentivize safe alternatives by establishing a research grant program targeted at priority hazardous chemicals for which alternatives do not presently exist.
2. Ban Poisonous Additives
Senator Gillibrand is cosponsoring the Ban Poisonous Additives Act, legislation to limit young children’s exposure to BPA by deeming the following products to be tainted:
- Food intended for children three years of age or younger if the container is composed of BPA;
- Bottles or cups is intended for use by children three years of age or younger, that does not contain a food when such bottle or cup is sold or distributed at retail, and that is composed of BPA; and
- Infant formula if the container (excluding packaging on the outside of a container that does not come into contact with infant formula powder) is composed of BPA.
This bill also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to revise HHS’s safety assessment for food containers containing BPA, taking into consideration different types of containers and uses, and also assess the risk of low doses of BPA resulting from frequent exposure, particularly by vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and other populations with high exposure to BPA.
3. Transparency in Flame Retardant Chemicals
Flame retardant chemicals are required by law to be in loose-fitting children’s sleepwear. Many varieties of flame retardants have been found to cause cancer and alter hormones that affect reproductive and neurological development, but there is no requirement for manufacturers to label the type of flame retardant used in a particular article of sleepwear.
To give parents more information and a choice regarding the types of chemicals in children’s sleepwear, Senator Gillibrand is introducing legislation that would change the Flammable Fabrics Act to require each manufacturer of flame resistant children’s sleepwear to label the chemical name of the flame retardant used in their product.