Congress is poised to pass legislation reauthorizing the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), giving it more money and new authority. The most controversial provision, however, bans use of six phthalates in children's products.
The bill, H.R. 4040, was approved on July 29 by a House-Senate conference committee after weeks of struggle over the phthalate provision. Introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the measure mirrors a ban on phthalates in toys approved in California last year. "This will help ensure that our children are safe from dangerous chemicals," Feinstein says.
The bill would impose a permanent ban on three phthalates in objects used by children under 12: di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, dibutyl phthalate, and benzyl butyl phthalate. Three other compounds—diisononyl phthalate, diisodecyl phthalate, and di-n-octyl phthalate—would have interim bans pending an additional 18 months of safety studies. The chemical industry fought the phthalate ban, calling it unnecessary. An American Chemistry Council vice president, Sharon Kneiss, says, "ACC believes that restricting phthalates from children's products, when they have been deemed safe for use in those products by the CPSC, will do nothing to protect children's health." ACC is the trade association representing the largest U.S. chemical manufacturers.
The U.S. manufactures about $1.4 billion worth of phthalates annually and less than 5% of this goes into children's products, ACC says.
Several other provisions in the legislation would strengthen CPSC authority. In light of numerous toy recalls over the past year, the agency banned lead above extremely low levels in children's toys, and will require third-party testing of products for lead or other hazards. It also would authorize additional funding for CPSC, up to $156 million by fiscal 2015. CPSC received $80 million in 2008.
The bill would also mandate creation of an online, public database for consumer-submitted and other reports of product-related injuries or risks. Another provision would give state attorneys general increased enforcement power to take companies to court, and the bill would provide protections to whistle-blowers for raising product problems.
President George W. Bush has said he opposes some sections of the bill but has not indicated that he will veto it.