Some Toys With Banned
Plastics Will Stay on Market
By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008; Page D01
A new federal ban on the use of the
controversial chemical phthalate in
teethers, pacifiers and other children's
products won't apply to goods already in
warehouses or on store shelves, federal
safety regulators said yesterday.
The decision, issued by Consumer Product
Safety Commission general counsel Cheryl
Falvey, means it will be illegal to sell
products made after the ban takes effect
Feb. 10 that contain certain types of
phthalates, chemicals used in soft
plastic that have been linked to
Any products made before that date will
still be legal to sell, even after the
ban is in place.
The ban, which was passed in August as
part of a landmark product safety law,
is supposed to remain in effect until a
panel finishes a scientific review of
phthalates. Backed by Democratic
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and
Barbara Boxer, it was modeled on a law
in their state that goes into effect in
Consumer advocates and several Hill
staffers who worked on the provision say
the CPSC's decision violates the intent
of the law.
"That obviously is not what was
intended," said Diana Zuckerman,
president of the National Research
Center for Women & Families, a
Washington advocacy group.
CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said that
the way the law is written, technically
the ban must be prospective.
Consumer advocates also say the decision
will cause confusion for consumers.
"How will parents know whether the
rubber ducky they're buying was made
today and not in March?'" said Rachel
Weintraub, director of product safety
for Consumer Federation of America.
Vallese said consumers can call a
manufacturer to find out when a product
By contrast, the decision came as a
relief to makers of children's products,
large and small, who faced the prospect
of having to test products and
components at great expense. Testing a
product for phthalates can cost
thousands of dollars, said lawyers and
consultants advising companies on how to
comply with the law.
"I'm glad to hear they are
grandfathering product already in place
because there is dispute about whether
those phthalates are harmful, and what
are they going to replace them with,"
said Kathleen McHugh, president of the
American Specialty Toy Retailing
Association, which also represents small
Toy Industry Association president
Carter Keithley also praised the CPSC
for its "careful analysis" of the law.
Businesses still have plenty of
questions about how to meet the law's
other requirements, such as the new
limits on lead and mandatory testing and
certification, which pose myriad
practical and financial challenges.
Despite a series of public meetings
hosted by the CPSC for businesses,
companies in search of more specific
guidance say they've largely been left
in the dark.
For instance, does a business have to
perform lead tests on shopping cart
seats that are primarily used by small
"What's the likelihood a kid is going to
be sucking on the seat?" McHugh said.
"That's where we've gone so overboard."
Or take a company that makes harmful
chemicals that already carry a warning
label. "Are you supposed to kill a bunch
of white rats so you can prove your
label is accurate?" said Mike Gidding, a
former CPSC official who now works with
companies. "It sure would be nice to be
able to call someone at CPSC and say,
'What's the answer?' "