TOYS TEST TOXIC
Widely used chemicals with suspected links to cancer and developmentalproblems in humans are present in common baby products like the yellowrubber ducky, bath books and clear plastic bottles, a Chronicleanalysis confirmed.
The toxic chemicals, which are used to harden or soften plastics, canleach out each time a baby sucks on a favorite doll or gnaws on a coolteething ring, scientists say.
Starting Dec. 1, a first-in-the-nation ban goes into effect in SanFrancisco, prohibiting the sale, distribution and manufacture of babyproducts containing any level of bisphenol A and certain levels ofphthalates.
The law, modeled on a European Union ban that started this year,reflects emerging concerns by environmental health scientists over thebuildup of industrial chemicals in humans, particularly youngchildren. Especially under scrutiny are chemicals that mimic estrogen,possibly disrupting the hormonal system and altering the normalworkings of genes.
Yet the trouble is that no one knows for sure how many baby productscontain the chemicals. Stores, many of which are still unaware of thepending ban, will be unable to decide what to take off the shelvesbecause manufacturers aren't required to disclose what chemicals gointo a product. For that reason, The Chronicle set out to test severalcommon baby toys and found that most of them -- even ones labeled"safe, non-toxic" -- contained the chemicals.
Toymakers and companies affected by the ban have sued to blockenforcement of the San Francisco law, saying their products have beenused safely for decades. A January hearing is scheduled. If the courtsuphold the measure, most companies say they'll comply with the baneven though they believe it's unnecessary.
"The U.S. government has always felt that what's in the marketplace isperfectly safe for the consumer," said Jeff Holzman, CEO of New York-based Goldberger Doll Manufacturing Co., who found out from TheChronicle that his company's Fuzzy Fleece Doll would be banned underthe San Francisco law.
"Be that as it may, if there's a question, all the products that wemake will be made without phthalates by 2007," he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admits that its ownguidelines -- called reference doses -- for safe human exposure to thechemicals are decades old and don't take into account the newresearch. The EPA is actively reassessing the health risks of threetypes of phthalates but is not reassessing bisphenol A, agencyspokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman said.
The Food and Drug Administration, which controls chemicals that maytouch food, and Consumer Product Safety Commission, which isresponsible for toy safety, haven't limited the chemicals in babyproducts for years. Representatives say they have no plans to imposenew restrictions.
Chemical-makers say that's appropriate.
"We believe at very low levels of exposure, there is no concern," saidMarian Stanley, a spokeswoman for the four U.S. phthalate-makers.
Low doses of bisphenol A are also not a health risk, said SteveHentges, a spokesman for the five major U.S. companies that make thatchemical. "In every case, the weight of evidence supports theconclusion that bisphenol A is not a risk to human health at theextremely low levels to which people might be exposed," he said.
Many scientists who study the materials disagree and point to hundredsof scientific studies they say show why bans such as San Francisco'sare needed.
It's not the first time San Francisco has led the way in instituting achemical ban. A decade ago, its leaders voted to eliminate the mosttoxic pesticides from city property. That sort of action is needed tocut exposure to harmful chemicals, said Dr. Richard Jackson, a UCBerkeley professor who for a decade headed the Center forEnvironmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control andPrevention.
"We don't want dry-cleaning solvents in our livers, lead in our brainsor perchlorate in our thyroids. We certainly don't want endocrinedisrupters in breast milk and umbilical cord blood. We need to beratcheting down these levels in people by reducing the loading ofthese chemicals in the environment," Jackson said.
The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, a group based at theWorld Health Organization, recommended in September prevention ofexposure to known hazards from chemicals already detected in sometoys.
"Protections for children from chemicals in toys are weak at best anddysfunctional at worst," said Joel Tickner, a professor ofenvironmental health at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He hasserved as a consultant to the forum and on national panels that advisethe U.S. government on chemicals in the environment.
"Consumers would be astonished if they knew that federal lawsregulating chemicals in children's toys all require balancing thebenefits of protecting children with the costs to industry ofimplementing safer alternatives," he said.
It's often impossible for parents to tell if the teething ring or babyrattle they hand their children contains bisphenol A or phthalates.The Chronicle purchased 16 children's products and sent them to theSTAT Analysis Corp. laboratory in Chicago, one of the few commerciallabs that test for these chemicals.
The city's ordinance bans the manufacture, distribution or sale ofitems intended for children younger than 3 if they contain any levelof bisphenol A. Six different forms of phthalates are covered by theban, which sets the maximum phthalate level at 0.1 percent of thechemical makeup of any part of the product. Three of those phthalatesare banned only in items intended for kids younger than 3, but the lawdoesn't include age limits for products that contain three otherphthalates -- DEHP, DBP and BBP.
Some items exceeded the city's phthalate limits:
-- Little Remedies Little Teethers, a Prestige Brands product soldwith an oral pain-relief gel, contained one phthalate at nearly fivetimes the limit.
-- The face of Goldberger's Fuzzy Fleece Baby doll contained one formof phthalate at nearly twice the limit.
-- A rubber ducky sold at a Walgreens store contained a carcinogenicform of phthalate, DEHP, at levels 13 times higher than allowed underSan Francisco's pending ordinance. A second form of phthalate wasfound three times above the limit.
These products were found to contain bisphenol A and would be bannedin the city:
-- The ring on a Baby Einstein rattle made by the Disney Co.
-- A Fun Ice Soothing Ring teether made by Munchkin Inc.
-- The plastic covers on two of Random House's waterproof books --"Elmo Wants a Bath" and Dr. Seuss' "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish BlueFish." The books also contain levels of phthalates below SanFrancisco's limit.
-- A Walgreen-brand baby bottle decorated with colorful fish.
-- The face of the Goldberger doll.
-- The body of a My Little Pony toy contained both bisphenol A and oneform of phthalate that measured three times the city's limit. The toywouldn't fall under the San Francisco ban, however, because it'smarketed for ages 3 and up. It didn't contain high enough levels ofthe other three phthalates to be subject to the ban.
The method used by STAT to test for bisphenol A wasn't sensitiveenough to detect the chemical in three polycarbonate clear plasticbaby bottles made by Philips Avent, Gerber and Playtex and one clearplastic Gerber cup. Experts from the American Plastics Council,however, say that polycarbonate plastic can't be made withoutbisphenol A. Those items would be banned under the San Francisco law.
The lab didn't detect the chemicals in three other products chosen byThe Chronicle:
-- A Baby Einstein caterpillar teething ring.
-- A no-spill cup made by Nuby/Luv n' care.
-- The plastic mouth cover of a Disney pacifier.
Most companies whose items were found to contain phthalates orbisphenol A learned about the pending San Francisco ban throughinterviews with The Chronicle.
Among them was Walgreen Co., which has since begun to examine ways tocomply with the ban. Officials at the company's Illinois headquarterssaid the chain is asking its vendors to identify products that do notcomply with the San Francisco law.
Representatives for Prestige Brands in Irvington, N.Y., said thecompany would remove the teether with phthalates from San Franciscoshelves and is working on finding an alternative.
After Random House officials learned of the test results on their babybath books, they made plans to conduct their own tests. The companypledged to stop shipping books to San Francisco if it finds theproducts would violate the pending ban.
When notified of the chemicals in its products, Hasbro spokesman GarySerby responded in an e-mail: "Hasbro does not agree with the sciencebehind the ordinance, but will comply as of Dec. 1."
Nidia Tatalovich, a Disney representative, said all of the company'sproducts meet state and federal compliance guidelines. She said thather company would examine the San Francisco law.
Shannon Jenest, spokeswoman for Philips Avent, which makespolycarbonate baby bottles, said, "We're working through the detailsright now. We're very concerned with those standards and will makesure that we adhere to those guidelines."
Munchkin, the company whose teething ring contained bisphenol A,didn't respond to repeated queries.
In the past three weeks, groups representing the chemicalmanufacturers, toymakers, retailers and San Francisco's toy stores,Citikids and Ambassador Toys, filed two separate lawsuits, arguingthat the city doesn't have the authority to pass such a ban.
Some of the same trade groups -- the California Retailers Association,the California Grocers Association, the Juvenile ProductsManufacturers Association and the American Chemistry Council --successfully fought a bill this year in the state Legislature thatwould have enacted a ban similar to San Francisco's. The city agreedto delay enforcement of its ordinance until a Jan. 8 hearing at whichthe companies will seek a preliminary injunction. A hearing datehasn't been set for the second lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.
Yet even without an injunction, there are no penalties for companiesthat violate the ban. City leaders said they wanted to make sure allcompanies knew about the ban before issuing fines or taking otheractions.
The San Francisco ordinance is certain to cause concern among parentswho may not have been aware of the European ban or studies onchemicals commonly found in child products.
Mary Brune, a technical writer from Alameda, said she first startedpaying attention to the issue when she was nursing her baby last yearand read about chemicals in breast milk. With two friends, she foundedMaking Our Milk Safe, or MOMS.
She scans Web sites to find toys made without plastics and tellsfriends about baby bottles made from glass, polyethylene, propyleneand other materials considered safe. She stores food in glass. Lastmonth she passed out leaflets near Albany's Target store, urgingcompany officials to remove polyvinyl chloride (PVC) toys from theirshelves.
"It's impossible to keep plastic toys out of children's mouth. Theychew on things," Brune said. "So we as parents rely on themanufacturers of products to ensure their safety. If consumers demandsafer products and businesses demand safer products from theirsuppliers, we'll be able to get these toxic products off our shelves."
The health effects
Scientists simply don't know how low or high levels of phthalates orbisphenol A will cause health problems in babies if they suck on abottle or handle a doll containing those substances.
Studies on the chemicals are largely conducted with high-dose and low-dose experiments on animals, which over time help scientists determinethe level of chemicals that may pose unacceptable risks.
Those sorts of strictly controlled animal experiments are what firstshowed that the pesticide chlordane could cause cancer and thatindustrial pollutants like dioxin could cause birth defects. Suchstudies were also cited when California named one phthalate acarcinogen in 1988 and two others as reproductive toxicants in 2005.
There is a dearth of long-term, epidemiological studies on childrenexposed to phthalates and bisphenol A. So scientists from groups likethe American Chemistry Council say the fact that the chemicals arefound in human bodies doesn't necessarily mean they cause healthproblems.
Yet scientists who study phthalates and bisphenol A say there isenough evidence to implicate some forms of the chemicals now.
New evidence about how bisphenol A affects lab animals and how it canleach out of items such as plastic bottles came out of 1999 researchby Koji Arizono at Japan's Kumamoto University.
Arizono found that a used polycarbonate baby bottle can leach outbisphenol A at daily levels that damaged the brain and reproductivesystems in lab animals. If a 9-pound baby drinks about a quart ofliquid from the bottle a day, it can ingest 4 micrograms of bisphenolA.
"We're showing that amount is in the zone of danger, based on theanimal studies," said University of Missouri researcher Frederick vomSaal, who said that the doses that have hurt lab animals were veryclose to what a baby would get from a baby bottle.
Vom Saal found that 148 published bisphenol A studies, all financed bygovernment bodies, reported significant health effects, includingaltering the function of organs and reproductive systems in male andfemale animals.
That compares with 27 studies that found no evidence of harm. Thirteenof those studies were financed by chemical corporations.
Last year, researchers at the Tufts University School of Medicineexposed pregnant lab rodents to levels of bisphenol A 2,000 timeslower than the EPA's 18-year-old safety guideline, which the agencyadmits is outdated. That old guideline suggests it would be safe, forexample, for a 9-pound baby to swallow about 200 milligrams (or200,000 micrograms) of the chemical a day.
But rodents given just a very small fraction of that amount showedchanges in mammary glands. In humans, such changes are associated witha higher risk of breast cancer. Other researchers showed that exposureof newborn rats to bisphenol A causes early stages of prostate cancer.
Testifying before the state Legislature this year on the failed bill,one of the EPA's top phthalate researchers, Earl Gray, said studies onpregnant rodents found in their male offspring such effects asdisrupted testosterone production and low sperm counts, malformationof sexual organs, and disruption of the endocrine system.
There's no reason to believe that the same effects wouldn't be thesame in humans as well, Gray said.
And last year, for the first time, scientists showed that pregnantwomen who had higher concentrations of some phthalates in their urinewere more likely to later give birth to sons with genitals that showedchanges similar to those seen in exposed rodents.
It appeared that human infants, like rodents, were less completelymasculinized. Some of the changes, including incompletely descendedtestes, were similar to those included in the "phthalate syndrome"seen in lab rodents that received high doses of phthalates, Universityof Rochester researchers found. Later in the lab animals' lives, thosegenital changes were associated with lower sperm count, decreasedfertility and, in some, testicular tumors.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which works closely withindustry, has developed a voluntary agreement to eliminate thephthalate DEHP in some baby products.
In 1983, the commission determined that substantial exposure to DEHPcould put children at risk of cancer. The agency didn't issue aregulation, but instead reached an agreement with the Toy IndustryAssociation to keep DEHP out of pacifiers, rattles and teethers. Theagreement leaves unregulated all other toys that babies put in theirmouths.
When advised that Chronicle tests found that all the polyvinylchloride toys contained DEHP, including a teether, Scott Wolfson, aspokesman for the commission, promised that his agency would look intoit.
Nevertheless, Wolfson said his agency believes that consumer productsthat contain low levels of phthalates are not a danger to children.His agency doesn't conduct its own tests on toys but follows up whenother organizations share test results, he said.
"We have a saying: 'The dose makes the poison.' We are not seeing ahigh dose of phthalates coming out of a product and into the body of achild."
The Chronicle decided to find out what popular toys and child careitems sold in San Francisco contained chemicals that would be bannedunder a new city ordinance effective Dec. 1.
Chronicle environment writer Jane Kay purchased a random selection of16 plastic baby items, including a toy doll and a horse, a rubberducky, books, teethers and baby bottles.
The Chronicle sent the box of products to STAT Analysis Corp.'slaboratory in Chicago, one of the few labs that can test for bisphenolA and six forms of phthalates.
The Chronicle identified parts of the toys and baby items that shouldbe tested by the lab. Lab workers cut the items apart and weighed thepieces before adding them into a solvent of methylene chloride. Afterseveral hours, lab workers used the solution to quantify the amount ofbisphenol A and phthalates in the products.
The method used to detect bisphenol A wouldn't be expected to find thechemical at low levels. Yet the lab, using gas chromatography and massspectrometry, found both bisphenol A and phthalates in many of theproducts.
Written by: Jane Kay, Environment Writer, San Francisco Chronicle
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