Environmental Groups Warn of Dangerous Chemicals in Toys and Home Flooring


Zulima Palacio

A research group known for exposing toxic chemicals in children's toys recently turned its  attention to home improvement products such as flooring and wallpaper.  After testing more than 3000 samples, the nonprofit group found toxic chemicals, including lead and PVCs, a kind of plastic, almost everywhere in homes. Many of the chemicals have been linked to cancer, asthma, birth defects and reproductive problems.  

This is eight-month-old Lev. As with all babies, he puts everything in his mouth.

What Lev doesn't know is that, nowadays, many of the things he chews on and even the air he breathes at home might contain high levels of toxic chemicals with adverse effects on his health.

Rachel Gibson is Lev's mom and the Chemicals Policy Director at Health Care Without Harm, an international coalition of hospitals and health care systems.

"This right here is one of my son's new favorites," said Rachel Gibson. "It makes noise, has great lights but I don't know what is in the plastic quite honestly.  He loves this thing."

Rachel is concerned about chemicals known as Phthalates, commonly used to soften plastics and found in children's toys, cosmetics and vinyl floors.  The US Consumer Product Safety commission has banned three phtalates from some children's toys.

"For the most part we are talking about long term consequences," said Gibson.

Richard Denison is senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization focused on science and research:  

"Unfortunately we know that these chemicals are able to disrupt the early development of people," said Denison. "Babies come into the world already carrying a burden of chemical exposure from day one that they got from their mothers."

The Toy Industry Association says there's no need for concern. Stacy Leistner is the association's spokesperson.

"We have very strict regulations for all toys that are sold in the US, regardless of where they are from and we are confident that toys on the shelves now are safer than ever before," said Leistner.

Thirty-four years have passed since the United States first regulated the use of toxic substances,  Since then, more than 80,000 chemicals have entered the market without testing or regulation.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has been able to regulate only five.   

Lisa Jackson heads the EPA:

"The story is clear," she said. "We have only been able to effectively regulate a handful of chemicals and we know very little about the rest."

Recently the organization known as tested 1000 flooring samples and  2000 wallpapers in search of toxic chemicals. It found alarming levels of lead, phthalates and PVCs.

The group suggested safe alternatives like linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood.

The list of chemicals that scientists say contain harmful substances is long - from fire retardents in mattresses and furniture, banned in many countries, to Teflon  that has long been associated with cancer.

"Today in the US about 250 pounds of chemicals per person per day are produced and used," said Denison. "So imagine walking around with a backpack that weighs 250 pounds and replacing it every single day."

Although there is a partial ban on Phthalates in the US, Denison says many chemicals, including Phthalates, have already caused extensive damage.

"Everyone of us carries measurable amounts of these chemicals in our bodies," he said. "They  contaminate our soil, food supply and water even decades after they are banned."

On Capitol Hill, there are new efforts to control toxic chemicals.  But experts say the battle  will be long and difficult.

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