Health authorities in several European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands have recommended a ban on soft PVC toys, such as teething rings and bath toys. The Spanish government requested action by the European Union (EU) in March, 1998. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride (also known as vinyl), is a common plastic that frequently contains toxic additives. Despite its well-publicized goal to "protect children's health," the Clinton administration is lobbying aggressively to avert a European ban on PVC toys.
At issue are a family of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced "thalates"). Phthalates (phthalic esters or benzenedicarboxylic acid esters) are used primarily as plasticizers added to PVC to make it soft and elastic. Plasticizers account for more than half the weight of some flexible PVC products. About 95% of phthalates are used in PVC.
Since they are not chemically bound to the PVC polymer itself, phthalates readily leach out of PVC products. Up to 1% of the phthalate content of PVC products is released each year. As a result of their continuous release during the production, use and disposal of PVC products, phthalates are often described as the "most abundant man-made environmental pollutants."
Although phthalates vary in toxicity, the most widely-used phthalates such as DEHP [di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate] have been linked in animal studies to a variety of illnesses, including reproductive damage and damage to the kidneys and liver. Several agencies, including U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], have labeled DEHP a probable human carcinogen. One recent study found a strong correlation between testicular cancer and exposure to PVC in workers who make PVC products. The authors of the study suspect that phthalates may play a role in their findings.
Other studies suggest that phthalates or their metabolites can interact synergistically with other common chemical contaminants, may be slightly estrogenic (which means they may play a role as endocrine disrupters), can affect blood pressure and heart rate, and may cause asthma when absorbed on airborne particles.
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE --> Written by: Charlie Cray - Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly
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