NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Junk Science Hits Soft Toys

December 10, 1998

A number of environmental groups are decrying toys made with chemicals called phthalates and are seeking to have them banned from store shelves, just as Christmas approaches. Phthalates are used to make vinyl toys soft. Vinyl, technically called polyvinyl chloride or PVC, is otherwise brittle. Critics say the toys are "toxic" and "dangerous" to children who put them in their mouths, and some want "a PVC-free nation."

Yet scientists say the toys are safe. Michael Gough, who advised Congress on science policy at the now defunct Office of Technology Assessment and now works for the Cato Institute, says the anti-soft-toys campaign is nonsense. The Consumer Product Safety Commission refused to ban the toys, on the basis of a study commissioned by the Netherlands' government.

  • The Dutch study -- which tested children up to 3 years old -- concluded that 95 percent of children received less than one-third of the Tolerable Daily Intake of phthalates set by the European Union, whose standards are similar to those set by U.S. regulators.
  • Only 1 percent ingested two-thirds of the allowable amount.
  • The study said the possibility of a child 12 months or younger consuming more than the limit is "so rare that its statistical likelihood cannot be estimated" -- and that the risks decrease for older children.
  • The study's conclusions were endorsed by a group that included officials from European governments, industry and consumer groups.

Nevertheless, the campaign conducted by environmental activists such as Greenpeace has resulted in a number of toy companies abandoning manufacture of teethers and rattles containing phthalates and some large retailers will not longer sell them.

Observers say that may be bad policy -- since withdrawal of a safe product will only encourage further junk science challenges.

Source: John Berlau, "Will Greenpeace Steal Christmas?" Investor's Business Daily, December 10, 1998.


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