By Mark Schapiro, The Nation, Nov 5
Into the playrooms of children has come the unsettling news: those little red trains and other neat miniatures of the adult world may be coated in paint containing illegally high levels of lead, posing myriad risks to a child's neurological development. After that discovery prompted a mass recall this past summer, parents will never look at Thomas the Tank Engine the same way again. But the uproar over banned substances and rogue Chinese toy manufacturers has overshadowed an even more troubling issue: the toxins in toys that are perfectly legal. The United States remains one of the few developed countries to permit the import of plastic toys made with polyvinyl chloride additives called phthalates (pronounced tha-lates), which help make toys soft and pliable enough to be twisted or sucked yet durable enough to survive a 1-year-old's grip. A mounting body of scientific evidence suggests that phthalates impede the production of testosterone and disrupt the sexual development of infant boys.
In the average home, phthalates are everywhere--in shower curtains, shampoo bottles, raincoats and perfumes (to aid adherence to the skin). In hospitals, they're in medical tubing. A component of that distinct "new car smell" comes from phthalates in the plastic dashboard. The dash becomes more brittle as the car ages because phthalates are slowly migrating into the car's interior. As they sweat out of the plastic, residue enters the air or, through direct contact, the skin.