In what the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is calling “a major victory for public health,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted 3-2 last week, to ban several harmful phthalate chemicals from plastic used in children’s toys and child care articles.

Phthalates are commonly used as a plastic softener in children’s toys and child care articles, such as teething rings. Numerous studies have linked phthalates exposure to interference with hormone production and reproductive development, especially in young children.

The agency finalized its rule on phthalates in response to a legal settlement approved by a judge in a lawsuit brought by the NRDC, the Environmental Justice Health Alliance (EJHA) and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners (BCPP) against the CPSC last December. The final rule permanently bans five types of phthalates from use in children’s toys and child care articles.

A ban on the five was proposed by the CPSC in 2014 but never finalized by the agency, despite a deadline under the law that has long since passed.

Michele Roberts, National Co-Coordinator of the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, said the protections are two years overdue – but better late than never.

“This will especially protect children who face overlapping exposures to phthalates in their communities, in household products, and even in the toys they play with,” said Roberts. “CPSC’s action is a major step, but it is the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in exposures some face–especially disproportionately exposed black, brown and poor communities. It’s unconscionable that our children have been exposed to toxic phthalates despite their known health concerns.”

U.S. government data show that for many phthalates, exposure is significantly higher in children age 6-11 and in people of color.

The BCPP's Nancy Buermeyer said phthalates have been linked to breast cancer and many other health issues. 

For more background, click here and here, respectively, for blogs by Daniel Rosenberg and Avinash Kar, senior attorneys in the Health program at NRDC.