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EWG Supports Maryland Bill for Safer Children's Products

EWG Supports Maryland Bill for Safer Children's Products

Sunday, February 15, 2009

 

STATEMENT OF JANE HOULIHAN

Vice President for Research, Environmental Working Group Hearing on House Bill 56: Phthalates and Bisphenol-A - Prohibitions - Toys and Child Care Articles Before the Maryland House of Delegates Health and Government Operations Committee Wednesday, February 20, 2008 1:00 p.m. Download this statement as a PDF Mr. Chairman, distinguished Members of the Committee: my name is Jane Houlihan and I am the Vice President for Research at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. I thank the members of the committee for the opportunity to testify in support of House Bill 56 to prohibit from toys and child care articles certain chemicals that are linked to birth defects and reproductive system damage. Summary. This bill targets chemicals that are in the bodies of nearly every newborn, toddler, and young child in Maryland, at levels that pose risks to their health. The actions proposed in this bill would protect children’s health by reducing their exposures to these chemicals. These actions are needed because the current federal system of public health protections is badly broken. It allows on the market products that end up in children’s bodies at levels that pose risks. It fails to require that manufacturers conduct safety testing and prove products are safe for children and other vulnerable populations. It is important for states to pass measures like HB56, to protect children from the most toxic chemicals in consumer products and to lead the way toward sorely needed federal policy reform. It is important for states to show leadership to protect health with policies like those in HB56 that are responsible, science-based, and precautionary. Maryland cannot win comprehensive public health protection by regulating one product and one chemical at a time. But the state can pass measures that target the most toxic chemicals in products used by the most vulnerable of its population, its children. With this bill Maryland would join a nationwide movement of at least nine other states with planned, pending, or enacted standards to limit these same widely recognized toxic chemicals from consumer products. Maryland’s leadership in this movement will be a vital step toward comprehensive federal reform to protect all children nationwide from chemicals in everyday products that can harm their health. HB56 proposes restrictions on phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), toxic industrial chemicals in children’s products. Children ingest the plastics softeners called phthalates when they chew on plastic toys. Substantial science dating back several decades demonstrates that these chemicals can cause birth defects of the male reproductive system. HB56 would place a strict limit of 0.1% for the phthalate content of toys, a level lower than the phthalate content of nearly one of every five toys tested in a 2005 study (California Environment 2005), and almost 400 times lower than maximum levels detected in toys (Rastogi 2003). Children ingest the plastics chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, when it leaches into formula and other drinks from the clear polycarbonate plastics that make baby bottles and sippy cups familiar to parents across the state. Studies show that some children are exposed to more BPA than the amounts that cause serious adverse effects in laboratory studies, including birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems (EWG 2007). HB56 would prohibit the manufacture, distribution, or sale of children’s products that contain BPA. This bill would fill critical gaps in our federal system of public health protection, and would reduce children’s exposures to chemicals widely recognized to be toxic. This bill imposes no new technical challenges to manufacturers: its provisions mirror those required in other states, in other countries, and by major U.S. retailers. Phthalate restrictions for children’s products are already enacted in California, for example, and across Europe. Major retailers of children’s products, Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us, are requiring that their suppliers produce products that meet strict limits or complete restrictions for these chemicals. There is no place in children’s products for chemicals that are widely recognized to be toxic and that end up in children’s bodies at levels that could harm their health. Maryland’s leadership on this issue important, to ensure that parents across the state have safer products for their children and to help build toward federal policy reforms that would require that all products and all chemicals be proven safe for all children and others who are vulnerable, before they are sold. Phthalates and BPA are widely recognized by government agencies as toxic chemicals that pose health risks for children. In 2007 two separate panels sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) both detailed concerns about infant exposure to BPA. One of the NIH panels consisting of 38 BPA experts from around the world expressed grave concerns that human exposures are at or above the levels that cause harm in animal studies (vom Saal et al. 2007). The other panel within NIH – the Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR) - concluded that there was “some concern” that infant exposure could harm brain development and adversely affect behavior (CERHR 2007). The chairman of the CERHR panel indicated that parents would be wise to avoid infant exposure to BPA given the outstanding issues regarding its potential harm (Hileman 2007a). Phthalates are also widely recognized to be toxic. For example, the State of California has determined that four phthalates targeted in HB56 are developmental toxins (DEHP, DBP, BBP, and DIDP), and that DEHP causes cancer (California EPA 2007). The European Union also recognizes a number of phthalates as reproductive toxins and carcinogens (ECB 2006). Despite widespread recognition of the toxicity of phthalates, they are allowed in unlimited amounts in children’s toys and other child-care items. Phthalates and BPA are both ubiquitous pollutants in children’s bodies. Phthalates and BPA both cross the placenta to contaminate children before the moment of birth. They join an the average of 200 chemicals that were found in babies at the moment of birth, in a study of cord blood from 10 newborns (EWG 2005). These babies’ bodies contained 287 chemicals altogether, including 263 toxic to the reproductive system and 206 linked to birth defects. Babies are born into the world pre-polluted with industrial chemicals, including phthalates and BPA. Studies show that frequent exposures to these chemicals continue throughout life, including during infancy through plastic toys, bottles and other sources. A recent study found phthalates in the bodies of all of 163 infants tested (Sathyanarayana et al. 2008). More than 80 percent of these babies had at least 7 different phthalate breakdown products in their bodies, indicating frequent exposures to multiple kinds of phthalates during an extraordinarily sensitive period of life. BPA has been found in breast milk, amniotic fluid, and cord blood, indicating exposure to the developing fetus and newborn (CERHR 2007). Although they have not yet tested young children, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) detected BPA in 93% of people age 6 and older, confirming daily, sustained exposures among the general public (Calafat et al. 2008). Children face exposures to phthalates and BPA at levels that pose health risks. Numerous studies demonstrate that infants and young children are exposed to BPA and phthalates at levels of concern. Infants are exposed to BPA via bottles and cups made from polycarbonate plastic. Studies consistently find BPA leaching from plastic bottles into liquids at levels ranging from below 1 part per billion for liquids at room temperature, up to nearly 8 parts per billion when the bottle is filled with liquid at boiling temperature (Hoa et al. 2008, EWG 2007). At a typical level of about 1 part per billion, EWG analyses show that 5 percent of bottle-fed infants would be exposed within a factor of 10 of levels linked in laboratory studies to altered testosterone levels, neurodevelopmental problems, and other permanent damage to male and female reproductive systems (EWG 2007, Howdeshell et al. 1999, Honma et al. 2002). Infant formula is also contaminated with BPA, which leaches from the lining of metal food cans. The combination of BPA in formula and from the bottles pushes a substantial number of children over the levels of exposure shown to cause reproductive and developmental damage (EWG 2007). Phthalate exposures in infants and children are also of great concern. CDC testing of more than 1,800 women of childbearing age show that half of all women are exposed to levels of dibutyl phthalate (DBP) that a study conducted in 2005 found to be associated with feminization of newborn boys (Swan et al. 2005). Phthalate exposures in baby boys are also now associated with changes in levels of reproductive hormones and proteins that transport them through the body (Main et al. 2006). Additional studies of phthalates in people now find health effects consistent with the ability of these chemicals to diminish the production of male reproductive hormones. Infants face unique health risks from chemical like phthalates that block hormones vital for proper growth and development. Infants are considered more susceptible to harm from industrial chemicals like phthalates than adults. Therefore, the fact that numerous studies now also show associations between typical phthalate exposures in adult men and health impacts raises concerns for infants as well. Altogether, over the past four years scientists have published at least 10 epidemiology studies linking phthalates to birth defects in baby boys, reproductive problems in men, abdominal obesity, increased diabetes risk, thyroid problems in both men and women, as well as asthma and dermal diseases in children (Stahlhut et al. 2007, Meeker et al. 2007, Huang et al. 2007, Duty et al. 2003a, 2003b, 2004, and 2005, Hauser et al. 2007, Hauser et al. 2006, Wormuth et al. 2006, Marsee et al. 2006, Swan et al. 2005, Bornehag et al. 2004, Lottrup et al. 2006). This evidence joins many dozens of laboratory studies proving phthalates to be potent reproductive toxicants that target the male reproductive system, posing the greatest risks during development (Matsumoto et al. 2008, Gray et al. 2006, Frederiksen et al. 2007). Clearly, chemicals linked to reproductive damage and a broad range of additional health problems have no place in children’s products. States are taking action to fill gaps in federal safety standards. In 2007 the State of California passed a law limiting phthalate content in children’s products to 0.1 percent. The limit takes effect on January 1, 2009 and targets the same phthalates that are covered in HB56. At least four other states have also introduced legislation to limit or require labeling of phthalates – Minnesota, New York, Illinois, and Washington, where legislation to prohibit phthalates in children’s products passed the House yesterday (Kosmos 2008). Upon passage of the California bill it was reported that the European Union and at least 14 other countries had also banned certain phthalates in products for young children over health concerns (Hileman 2007b). At least seven states have introduced or proposed legislation or policy that would restrict BPA in consumer products or require that its presence be labeled (WGSM 2008) – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York. Major retailers are taking independent action to protect their customers, mandating that their suppliers provide products free of phthalates and BPA. Even as states are taking action to remove these toxic chemicals from children’s products, retailers are moving forward with their own protections. Reports published last week (D’Innocenzio 2008) noted that Toys “R” Us has notified suppliers that by the end of 2008 all children’s products sold in its stores must be produced without phthalates and other chemicals linked to reproductive problems and birth defects (Kavilanz 2008). By August Wal-Mart will reduce the amount of phthalates to 0.1 percent in products sold in its stores. Gaps in our system of federal public health protections for these chemicals leave Maryland’s children at risk. The federal law that regulates industrial chemicals including phthalates and BPA was passed in 1976 and has never been updated. Under this law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can mandate safety testing for industrial chemicals like phthalates and BPA only through formal rulemaking. In the past 30 years EPA has used its authority to require testing for fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce when the law was passed (GAO 2005), and has not required safety testing for phthalates and BPA even though these chemicals contaminate children nationwide. An EPA expert panel chaired by an industry consultant has recommended to weaken health standards for phthalates. EPA establishes health standards (reference doses, or RfDs) for industrial chemicals, including phthalates, that are used across many government public health agencies in setting safety standards for consumer products. EPA has established an expert panel to update its health standard for one of the phthalates that would be restricted under the Maryland bill, DBP. Recent reports show that the panel chair, an industry consultant, has recommended with the panel that the health standard for DBP be weakened by a factor of 3 through a controversial discounting of data showing substantial testosterone decreases in laboratory studies. This recommendation for a substantial weakening of federal health standards comes when scientific evidence suggests far greater health risks at lower levels of exposure than had been previously understood. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) lacks funding and authority to ensure that products are safe for children. CPSC is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals in many consumer products, like phthalates in children’s toys. In 1998 CPSC wrote off health risks from phthalates in children’s toys based in part on exposure data they gathered from 10 adult volunteers they recruited to mouth children’s toys. CPSC considered risks from a single phthalate, DINP, that is no longer found in children’s toys. Studies show at least five different phthalates in toys, none of which CPSC assessed for safety. CPSC also completely discounted cancer evidence as not applicable for humans, but scientists from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have noted that such discounting of human cancer risks from phthalates is not supported, and could lead to decisions that do not protect public health (Melnick et al. 2008). Additionally, CPSC assessed liver toxicity but ignored reproductive toxicity, widely acknowledged to be among the most sensitive health risks of concern. CPSC’s flimsy authority and enforcement to ensure the safety of children’s toys was dramatically exposed last year when studies found high levels of both lead and asbestos in children’s toys. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have scrambled to introduce bills to help CPSC ensure that children’s products are safe, but even the passage of such bills would not ensure rapid or protective action on phthalates and BPA in children’s products. With only two commissioners of three in place, CPSC currently lacks any authority whatsoever to set safety standards or demand product recalls of any kind, even if they have firm proof that products are harming children’s health. Conclusion. HB56 is a science-based, commonsense, precautionary bill that would help fill gaping holes in our system of federal health protections. It would protect Maryland’s children from common consumer product chemicals that are known to pose health risks. We support this bill and the health protections it would achieve. References Bornehag CG, Sundell J, Weschler CJ, Sigsgaard T, Lundgren B, Hasselgren M, Hägerhed-Engman L. 2004. 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