Introduction and Interview by Safe Baby Healthy Child Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson
Many parents are concerned about PVC/vinyl in toys. Safe Baby Healthy Child understands these concerns and we have listened to your questions! Even though there is a lot of information out there, it can still be confusing about how concerned we as parents should really be.
Because we couldn’t find clear answers anywhere, we contacted Mike Schade from CHEJ (Center for Health, Environment and Justice) to do an interview with us! Mike’s answers have finally brought light to all of our questions! This interview is something that every parent should read.
PVC Questions and Answers
How do I know if the toy I am about to purchase is PVC-free?
Look on the label and see if it’s labeled “PVC-free”. If you don’t know if a toy is PVC-free, check for #3 or the letters “PVC” often found next to the three-arrow “recycling” symbol or contact the manufacturer.
Some toys are labeled “phthalate-free.” Is this enough or should I only purchase PVC-free?
Certainly, phthalate-free toys are a step in the right direction. But even PVC toys that are phthalate-free may potentially contain other potentially harmful chemical additives. For example, lead has been found in a number of PVC children’s toys and back-to-school products such as lunch boxes. Many companies have substituted lead for other “stabilizers” such as organotins which may be harmful over time. Some organotins affect the central nervous system, skin, liver, immune system and reproductive system. Since the organotins are not 100% bound to the polymer, they can easily migrate from within a PVC product to the surface.
The best bet is to look for toys that are 100% PVC-free. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Is PVC only toxic if my child is chewing on the toy?
No, PVC is hazardous from production to disposal and that’s why we call it the poison plastic. There’s no safe way to manufacture, use or dispose of PVC products. PVC’s lifecycle uses and releases highly hazardous chemicals including dioxins and furans, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, phthalates, mercury and other chemicals. PVC chemical plants pollute the air and groundwater of surrounding communities, harming the health of neighbors and workers such as in Mossville, Louisiana. Read about the effects on Mossville residents here.
“Chemicals are not required to be proved for safety before
they’re put in products that can end up in our children’s mouths, schools and homes.”
Most European countries, Japan and Mexico banned phthalates in toys. Why is there only slow progress in the USA?
The U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting children from dangerous chemicals in our homes, schools and communities. Thankfully, Congress has passed legislation banning phthalates and lead in children’s toys, a major victory for our children’s health.
This is an important step, but much more is needed to be done to reform our out-dated chemical regulatory system. Chemicals are not required to be proved for safety before they’re put in products that can end up in our children’s mouths, schools and homes. The government lacks the legal authority to ban dangerous chemicals. For example the U.S. EPA hasn’t been able to ban asbestos, a chemical with a disease named after it!
What’s your response to the following statement: “Diisononyl phthalate, or DINP, is the plasticizer most used for making children’s vinyl toys soft, flexible and durable and use of DINP in vinyl toys has been supported by thorough scientific reviews by government agencies on two continents. A thorough risk assessment performed by a French scientist under the aegis of the European Union’s European Chemicals Bureau found no reason to impose any risk reduction rules on the use of the substance, specifically including their uses in toys and childcare items. In the United States, a six-year review by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) found no demonstrated health risk to children from playing with and mouthing vinyl toys containing DINP. And it found good reason to continue its use, stating: “If DINP is to be replaced in children’s products…the potential risks of the substitutes must be considered. Weaker or more brittle plastics might break and result in a choking hazard. Other plasticizers might not be as well studied as DINP.”
Children, particularly infants, are extremely vulnerable to toxic chemicals as their bodies are still developing. Studies have demonstrated that phthalates such as DINP pose hazards in animals which raises concerns for infants and young children chewing on PVC toys. Studies have demonstrated links between DINP and cancer, adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver and blood.
CPSC’s 2002 review found that the DINP was actually more toxic than previously thought and even lowered the maximum amount of DINP that could be consumed without potential health effects, called the “acceptable daily intake”, by 20 percent, despite chemical industry requests to raise the level. The CPSC also confirmed that DINP leaches from the toys through children’s mouthing. Based on measurements of the rate of leaching they concluded that children would exceed the acceptable daily intake after 75 minutes of mouthing vinyl toys.
Is it prudent to allow the sale of products that children put in their mouths before fully testing their chemical ingredients? In the mid 80s the US toy industry began using DINP as a “safer” substitute for DEHP. They did this without fully testing DINP. But in the late 90s The NY Times reported on an industry study showing DINP causing cancer in the livers of rats.
No one questions that the DINP is biologically available to any child who sucks on a PVC toy made with DINP. Industry simply contends that children don’t consume enough of DINP to put them at risk. Phthalates leach from PVC toys like water from a wet sponge.
If safer alternatives are available, why take a risk? We stopped exposing children to lead paint. We stopped allowing children to smoke. We must take steps towards the next generation in public health policy by getting unnecessary dangerous chemicals such as phthalates and PVC off the market and replacing them with healthier alternatives.
There are many safer plastics and other materials on the market that do not leach chemicals to the degree that PVC products do. Why waste time and tax dollars trying to figure out how much you can expose children to before they are in danger? Who does that best serve? The chemical maker? The toy maker? Or the infant?
“Phthalates leach from PVC toys like water from a wet sponge.”
How do I dispose of PVC toys?
We recommend parents return them to the manufacturer or retailer where you purchased them from, let them know you’re concerned, and ask them to go PVC-free.
Unfortunately, there’s no 100% safe way to dispose of PVC products which is a major reason why we’re calling for an international phase-out. Because PVC is a chlorinated plastic, when PVC is burned in incinerators or in accidental landfill fires, the burning of PVC forms dioxins, a highly toxic group of chemicals that have been targeted for international phase-out by over 100 countries around the world.
Additionally, when PVC is dumped in landfills, the chemical additives in it such as phthalates, may leach out over time, contaminating the groundwater of unlined landfills.
In the interim, we recommend diverting PVC away from incineration and traditional landfilling to hazardous waste landfills. PVC waste should be disposed of in “secure” triple-lined hazardous waste landfills and diverted away from incineration.
Why are lead and other toxic metals frequently found in PVC toys?
That’s because PVC is useless without the use of harmful chemical additives such as phthalates, lead, cadmium and/or organotins which are used to soften or stabilize the plastic. PVC products need these dangerous additives in order to give it useful properties, such as flexibility.
“A number of studies have found associations between PVC building products and asthma.”
What other ways can children be exposed to PVC?
Children may be exposed to chemicals in many PVC consumer (such as vinyl shower curtains) and building products. For example, PVC is used in many building products such as flooring, siding and wall coverings. A number of studies have found associations between PVC building products and asthma, a major concern for children.
For example in one study, workers in an office building were diagnosed with adult-onset asthma at a rate approximately 9 times higher than expected. High levels of VOCs were detected. The researchers concluded the most probable cause of this indoor air problem was the degradation of the PVC flooring.
A number of studies have also suggested a correlation between phthalates, PVC and asthma. Most recently, a study published in 2008 found an association between concentrations of the phthalate DEHP in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children in Bulgaria. Another study of 10,851 children found the presence of both floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthma. PVC wall coverings have also been linked to asthma. A recent study from Finland found that adults working in rooms with plastic wall coverings were more than twice as likely to develop asthma. These researchers pointed to other recent studies in children conducted in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia that also found links between PVC, phthalates and respiratory problems.
How can parents take action?
Parents can take action by visiting our website.
Anything else you think we should add or you’d like to add?
Nope, that about it sums it up! Thanks so much for your work to inform and empower parents with essential information to make safer and smarter choices for their families! Your website is an invaluable resource.
Thank you Mike for this great interview!
Toy Manufacturers That Are PVC-Free
We, Sandra and Samantha, put together a list of PVC-free and lead-free toy manufacturers for our reader’s convenience:
Edushape, Green Toys, Lego, Olli, Plan Toys, Sevi, Spielstabil, Tiny Love, Trudi, Wonderworld Toys, Wow! Toys
*Packaging may contain PVC. Please always check with Manufacturer if you’re unsure!
About Mike Schade
Mike Schade coordinates CHEJ’s national PVC campaign and has coordinated numerous community, marketplace and policy campaigns resulting in substantial victories for environmental health and justice in New York State over the past eight years. He is a graduate of the State University of NY at Buffalo with a degree in Environmental Studies. CHEJ mentors a movement building healthier communities by empowering people to prevent harm caused by chemical and toxic threats. To date, CHEJ has assisted over 10,000 groups nationwide. Details on CHEJ’s efforts to help families and communities prevent harm can be found at http://www.chej.org.
2015 Update: Mike Schade currently spearheads the Mind the Store campaign at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.