Chinese toys have widespread phthalate risk, company says

Chinese toys have widespread phthalate risk

Toys from China may contain dangerous levels of a toxic chemicals that can pose a serious health risk at high concentrations, according to tests performed on dozens of Chinese toys destined for European and American markets.

Compliance solutions firm QIMA said that of the nearly three-dozen Chinese toys it randomly selected for phthalates testing by an accredited partner, about 25% showed “dangerous levels” of the chemicals such as ethylhexyl. In one case, according to QIMA, tests on a toy first aid kit showed phthalates at more than 130 times allowable limits set by EU regulators. Manufacturers use these compounds to make goods like plasticized PVC, garden hoses, sports equipment and flooring more durable and flexible. They also can appear in adhesives and plastic cutlery. 

The firm says that such high levels of phthalates can pose a risk of cancer and impair fertility once children become adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said phthalates may also disrupt the endocrine system, which releases the hormones responsible for metabolism, growth and development. However, the agency has not found any specific data that show phthalates are directly responsible for a certain disease or condition.

“Results like these make it clear that toy importers buying from China and Greater Asia take the greatest risk with children, the most vulnerable consumers,” QIMA says.

Phthalates are being phased out in the United States, Canada, and the European Union, but not in China. In 2008, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission set limits for phthalates as well as lead in products designed for children younger than 12 and mandated third-party testing of those goods. The CPSC said children’s toys or child care articles — defined as items that facilitate sleeping or feeding of children under 3 — must not contain concentrations of certain phthalates at above 0.1%. These include diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and dicyclohexyl phthalate (DHCP). This affects all products imported or made within the U.S., especially for children.

The E.U. developed similar restrictions under its REACH environmental legislation, requiring even more rigorous testing for phthalates in any plasticized toys that a child would reasonably be expected to place in their mouths. Lawmakers there have added substances to the restricted list in the past few years. These include cadmium, benzene and mercury compounds. Canada restricts six phthalates in children’s toys and articles but not other everyday products.

Aside from toys, QIMA says that consumers and associations are urging manufacturers to reduce or eliminate potentially toxic chemicals in cosmetics, fashion jewelry, the automotive sector and furniture as well. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has found decreasing levels of phthalates in cosmetic products intended for infants and children since they began testing in 2004. These include baby shampoos, baby lotions, and baby powder. The FDA also says that diethylphthalate (DEP) is the only phthalate routinely used in cosmetics today.

Companies that do not test for these substances can face civil and criminal liability for causing bodily injury to children. 

There has also been an increase in awareness and interest around Phthalates by the general public, which places more pressure on governments to regulate and companies to comply. Dr. Shanna Swan recently published a book about phthalates called “Count Down” where she provides education to the public about the negative impact of these chemicals. Shanna was also recently interviewed on the Joe Rogan podcast, one of the most popular podcasts available. 

With this media attention on chemicals like phthalates we can expect regulations to become more strict and companies to become more concerned with compliance. It is likely that consumers will start to seek out products without phthalates or brands they trust to test their products before taking them to market. 

Companies are now finding it less expensive to be proactive about the testing of their products than to risk getting fined. Fines not only directly cost a business money, but also have peripheral costs around reworking products, loss of inventory, and a damaged reputation. Due to the fact that manufacturers are often incentivized to use cheaper inputs to increase their margins, most companies find it helpful to hire third party inspectors to ensure their manufacturers are meeting their quality and regulatory standards. 

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