In October, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill prohibiting phthalates in products intended for young children. “These chemicals threaten the health and safety of our children at critical stages of their development,” Schwarzenegger said. Proponents of the law are now pushing for similar action in states across the country and in Congress.
Phthalates—various oily chemical compounds used to soften plastic—make rubber duckies squeezable and teething rings chewable, and they’ve been around for half a century. But in the last decade, environmental groups have called attention to the potential dangers of these chemicals, pointing to animal studies that link phthalate exposure to birth defects, hormonal disruptions, and cancer. The European Union restricted the sale of phthalate-laced toys in 1999 and recently beefed up controls.
Not everyone agrees that the outcry is warranted, particularly those in the chemical and toy industries. While it’s clear that high doses of phthalates are harmful to animals, it remains to be shown whether these effects translate to humans. Some studies suggest that the phthalate exposure most people get from phthalate-containing products is lower than the doses shown to be harmful in animals. The CDC maintains that further research is needed to understand how phthalates affect humans, and several such projects are under way.
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