Chlorine (PVC)

Detection of chlorine in a toy component indicates the likely use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or vinyl, a widely used type of plastic. PVC is of concern to the environment and public health during all phases of its life cycle – production, use and disposal.

During the production phase, workers at PVC facilities, as well as residents in surrounding areas, may be exposed to vinyl chloride (a building block of PVC) and/or dioxin (an unwanted byproduct of PVC production), both of which are carcinogens. At the end of a product's life, PVC can create dioxin when burned. PVC is not easily recycled.

Because PVC is an inherently brittle material, it requires additives to make it flexible and to impart other desired properties. A group of additives commonly found in PVC products are phthalates (pronounced thal-ates). Phthalates are used in many plastics, especially PVC products, as a softening agent to make the plastic flexible. Over 90% of all phthalates are used in PVC products. Since 2009, childcare products (products for children under three years of age) and children's toys (toys produced for children under twelve years of age) containing concentrations of phthalates such as DEHP, BBP, and DBP greater than 0.1% have been considered banned hazardous materials. Phthalates DINP, DnOP (di-n-octyl), and DIDP (diisodecyl) in concentrations greater than 0.1% have been placed on a provisional ban (CPSIA 2008) by the CPSC (en español) unless there is a future determination of safety. This restriction does not apply to other PVC products. Lead and other heavy metals are sometimes used as a stabilizer or to impart other properties to PVC plastic (WTC 2009).

Phthalates

Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals that add flexibility and resilience to many consumer products. Phthalate plasticizers are not chemically bound to PVC, they can leach, migrate or evaporate into indoor air and atmosphere, foodstuff, other materials, etc. Consumer products containing phthalates can result in human exposure through direct contact and use, indirectly through leaching into other products, or general environmental contamination. Humans are exposed through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure during their whole lifetime (Heudorf et al).

Some of the common phthalates foundin consumer products are listed below:

Of particular concern are di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), benzylbutyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and very likely diethyl phthalate (DEP). DEHP and BBP are primarily used as plasticizers in polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based plastics, as well as other flexible plastics, and found in tablecloths, furniture, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, wall papers, garden hoses, inflatable swimming pools, plastic clothing such as raincoats, children's toys, automobile upholstery and tops, medical tubing, and blood storage bags. DEP and DBP are used in non-plastic consumer items as fixatives, detergents, lubricating oils, and solvents. The chemicals can be found in carpets, paints, glue, insect repellents, time release capsules, and personal care products such as soap, shampoo, hair spray, nail polish, deodorants, and fragrances. Congress took action on six phthalates due to concerns about their toxicity.

Health Effects of PVC Additives: Phthalates

Animal studies show that phthalates are as toxic as PVC itself, causing cancer, thyroid and kidney diseases, possibly due to their effects on the endocrine system. Being fat-soluble, they also tend to accumulate in the body. Steps have already been taken to ban phthalates from plastic nipples on baby-bottles, children’s toys and plastic tubing for hospital use.

A Danish-Swedish team recently studied over 10,000 children and found that phthalates may be a major factor behind the dramatic increase in childhood asthma and allergy. They found that asthmatic children lived in homes with the highest concentrations of phthalates in the house dust (Environ Health Perspect, 2004; online 15 July).

In 1995, Sweden banned all PVC products, and Denmark has imposed a tax on all PVC products and phthalates. Over 150 communities in Europe have already banned PVC or have policies to phase out its use in public buildings (Healthy.net)

Depending on the level of exposure, phthalates have been linked to:

  • Phthalates are a group of chemicals, some of which have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. (Illinois EPA 2000).
  • Exposure to phthalates is linked to birth defects of the genitals and altered levels of reproductive hormones in baby boys. An increased breast cancer risk is also suspected (Main 2006, Swan 2005, Marsee 2006,PDF). Phthalates in building products have also been linked to asthma. (Mendell, 2007, PDF).
  • Human testing by the federal government finds phthalates in almost all of the population, with the highest levels in children ages 6 to 11 years and in women (CDC, 2005). DINP (one type of phthalate) is commonly used as an additive in children’s toys.
  • Studies have demonstrated possible links between DINP and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood (State of Oregon, PDF).
    In vitro maternal exposure to DEHP has been correlated to improper brain development in fetal rats. (Xu 2007).
  • Exposure to DEHP can lead to the formation of cancerous tumors in the liver (Foster 2007,PDF).

Current Regulations

  • Since February 2009, childcare products (products for children under three years of age) and children’s toys (toys produced for children under twelve years of age) containing concentrations of DEHP, BBP, and DBP greater than 0.1% have been considered banned hazardous materials. DINP, DnOP (di-n-octyl), and DIDP (diisodecyl) in concentrations greater than 0.1% have been placed on a provisional ban (CPSIA 2008) unless there is a future determination of safety.
  • Beginning February 2009, a government panel has begun reviewing the full list of phthalates and phthalate alternatives. This study, to be completed by August 2010, will be the basis for further government banning or regulation of additional phthalates, including those on temporary ban. Decisions regarding such regulation are to be made by February 2011 (CPSIA 2008).
  • California recently passed a law to ban certain phthalates in toys and baby products effective January 1, 2009 (California Department of Toxic Substances Control).
  • The European Union has prohibited phthalates in toys since 1999, and recently expanded their ban to include all childcare products that might be placed in the mouth by young children (EU). The European Union also banned certain phthalates from cosmetic products in 2003 due to their reproductive toxicity (SCCP 2007,PDF).
  • Phthalates are banned in many other countries, including Mexico and Japan (FindLaw 2009). Some companies and retailers have made commitments to reduce or eliminate use of phthalates and PVC in products and packaging (CEH 2009).
  • Some companies and retailers have made commitments to reduce or eliminate use of phthalates and PVC in products and packaging.
  • Vermont has similar phthalate regulation as the CPSIA, but requires that replacements be least toxic alternatives and prohibits substituting phthalates with any substance deemed by the U.S. EPA to be an A, B, or C class carcinogen (State of Vermont 2008).
  • The state of Washington prohibits the same phthalates as the CPSIA, but reduces the allowable amount to 0.1% total, rather than 0.1% per phthalate (ACC 2009).

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