Thirty years of ‘trouble’? Try 50 years of safe use

With Black Friday quickly approaching, it’s that time of the year when some organizations try to scare consumers away from their favorite products, using “red lists” and “black lists” of “scary chemicals” that people should avoid at all costs.

These lists are the new holiday staples; the new pumpkin spice lattes of the season.  This year, some of these organizations are stepping up their game a little. For example, instead of the normal, yearly report about unsafe toys, a “30 Years of Trouble” report is being released, highlighting 30 years of regulations designed to improve consumer safety.

We agree that regulations are important to keeping consumers – especially children – safe from harmful toys, and we applaud the many regulators that use sound science to develop regulations that make our world a safer place.

But, we also want to caution people about some of the overblown claims made about particular chemicals in consumer products.

Phthalates – chemicals used to soften plastics, do not migrate out of products easily. In fact, they are specifically chosen as plasticizers because they are resistant to extraction, evaporation and migration. And, while they are used in a variety of commercial applications – like wire and cable or building and construction, phthalates are not expected to be in children’s toys or childcare articles because of regulatory and market changes over six years ago.

You might also hear that phthalates are a “new danger.” Phthalate safety has been studied for several decades and biomonitoring data, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exist for the last decade. Phthalates are widely used and, as expected, metabolites of several of the most common phthalates are found in most of the people measured, however, the detected levels are far below those deemed to be safe by regulatory authorities in the U.S. and Europe.

When talking about chemicals in our products, it’s always important to remember dose and exposure. Just because a chemical is used in a product, detectable even in the smallest doses, it doesn’t mean it’s harmful to your health. As the CDC (2005) explains:

The presence of a chemical does not imply disease. The levels or concentrations of the  chemical are more important determinants of the relation to disease, when established in appropriate research studies, than the detection or presence of a chemical.

With all the lists you are carrying around this holiday season, the only “red list” you should be holding is the one with your children’s wants and wishes!

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