Phthalate monster is science-phthiction

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In response to Harvey Karp and Rachel Gibson’s Sept. 20 opinion piece, “Phthalates? Phtooey! Toxic chemical softening agents do not belong in kids’ rattles, teethers and toys,” I would like to stress the following: A bill is heading for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk that calls for banning certain substances that are used to make vinyl toys and child-care articles soft and flexible. The bill, AB 1108, is loudly and vigorously supported by pressure groups that feel these articles present a possible health hazard. The bill has no basis in solid scientific research. It creates a mythical monster and asks the governor to slay it with a stroke of his pen. It should be vetoed.

The bill touches an issue on which we all agree — the health and safety of our children. State and federal governments have spent billions of dollars creating health and regulatory systems to protect their citizens from harm — California is second to none in its commitment to health and environmental safety. This bill circumvented all those safety systems. In fact, it ignored them. Its passage ignored the findings of exhaustive risk assessments performed in the United States and in Europe. Now it threatens to short-circuit a promising state effort to reduce hazardous waste and toxic threats called the California Green Chemistry Initiative, an innovative venture with which our industry hopes to cooperate.

The issue revolves around a particular chemical, called di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), which is the primary softener used in vinyl toys. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSP, spent more than four years studying DINP and found “no demonstrated health risk” to children and “no justification” for banning it. The European Union’s Chemicals Bureau also spent years conducting a risk assessment, reviewing 257 published and peer-reviewed scientific articles, before finding DINP “unlikely to pose a risk for consumers (adults, infants and newborns).” The European Union findings were published in 2006. The CPSC findings were reaffirmed in a letter to a state senator just in July. What, one can fairly ask, is the issue?


It is not for industry to say what motives are behind the assault. But we do strongly object to gross overstatements and the perpetuation of urban legends about these and other chemicals, all apparently designed to sow fear and uncertainty among consumers and product manufacturers. To say, as Karp and Gibson said in their Op-Ed, that this chemical can be sucked out of a vinyl toy like the flavor out of bubble gum is grossly wrong and far beyond the bounds of reason. And to use political pressure to push this bill through the Assembly, where it was first defeated, and then through the Senate, may be impressive politics, but it is not good science.

The chemistry industry encourages the development of toxicity, exposure and health-related information about its products. It works with government and nongovernmental organizations to develop the scientific foundation for risk-based decision making. It is taking on the hot issues, such as endocrine disruption. And I can assert that the safety of my children and your children is a fundamental value this industry shares with society.

These goals are not served by random potshots at this or that chemical, pushed through the Legislature without even a cursory look at the science and without involving California’s impressive array of scientific talent. Amendments to the bill proposed by Cal/EPA (and rejected by the bill’s supporters) signaled a preference for a comprehensive, coordinated approach over the chemical-by-chemical approach preferred by interest groups and some policymakers. This industry has already demonstrated to California its willingness to work on science-based approaches to issues of concern, as it did in the development of a sound and workable bio-monitoring bill.

The public interest is not served by ignoring the evidence and refusing to listen to the experts. Rhetoric should not be allowed to drown out California’s commitment to look at these issues and to get them right. A veto is not a victory for industry. It is a victory for good science and rational government.

Jack N. Gerard is the president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council. Click to read more about The Times’ Blowback feature.