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Canada Limits Toxic Softeners in Plastic Baby Toys

OTTAWA, Ontario - Canada will restrict six toxic chemicals used to soften vinyl plastics in order to limit the exposure of infants and children to the chemicals, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Tuesday.

The new regulations, to be implemented in June, will ban toys and child care products that contain greater than allowable concentrations of the six phthlates, a family of chemicals used to soften polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.

"Phthalates may adversely affect reproduction and development," Health Canada said in a fact sheet accompanying the government's decision.

"Today, we are acting to make the toys and products that young Canadians use even safer," said Aglukkaq. "New regulations will ensure products that are imported, sold or advertised in Canada do not present a risk of phthalate exposure to children and infants."

The mere presence of phthalates in soft vinyl toys does not equate to a health risk, Health Canada says, adding that touching or licking soft vinyl does not constitute a health risk.

But young children often put teething rings and soft vinyl toys into their mouths and chew on them, releasing the phthalates in the soft plastic into their saliva.

"It is the amount of phthalates that leach out of the soft vinyl and migrate into the body that can be harmful," Health Canada says. "Phthalates leach out of soft vinyl during periods of sustained mouthing action (sucking and chewing) that occurs on a daily basis, and migrate into the body through the saliva."

"I applaud the government's actions to limit the presence of this chemical in children's products," said Rick Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Defence Canada, which advocates for regulations to limit toxic chemicals.

"Canada's phthalates regulations are now aligned with measures taken in the United States and the European Union and will ensure our children receive the same high level of protection," said Smith.

In the European Union the concentrations of some phthalates has been restricted to 0.1 percent for use in children's toys since 1999. In the United States, a similar restriction was enacted as part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.

Canada's new regulations also use the 0.1 percent standard to limit six chemicals - di 2-ethylhexl phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP).

Since 1998, phthalates have voluntarily not been used by Canadian industry in soft vinyl pacifiers, teethers, rattles, baby bottle nipples and other products intended to be mouthed by children and infants.

Even so, Health Canada's own market survey conducted in 2008 found the widespread presence of phthalates in PVC toys and other products for young children.

According to the test results released to Postmedia News under access-to-information legislation, three-quarters (54 of 72) of soft plastic toys and other items for young children contained up to 39.9 percent by weight of PVC.

Health Canada says it conducted the tests to "understand what manufacturers are using instead of phthalates," according to an internal summary of the test results, said Sara Schmidt of Postmedia News.

Many environmentalists want the Canadian government to do a great deal more to control phthalates and other toxic chemicals in everyday consumer products.

A petition filed Thursday by the David Suzuki Foundation and Reseau des femmes en environement asks why Canada is not enforcing a prohibition on estrogen-mimicking, hormone-disrupting chemicals in personal care products like shampoos, lotions, deodorants and makeup. Estrogens are the primary female sex hormones.

"Canada's Cosmetic Regulations are clear - products that contain estrogenic substances should not be allowed on the shelf," said Lisa Gue, researcher with the David Suzuki Foundation. "So what are these chemicals doing in our body products?"

The petition points out that although Canada's Cosmetics Regulations prohibit the sale of any cosmetic that contains "an estrogenic substance," parabens, siloxanes, phthalates and BHA are common ingredients in cosmetics. All four show evidence of estrogenic activity and have been classified by the European Union as suspected endocrine-disrupting substances.

The petition asks what action Health Canada is taking against manufacturers or importers of cosmetics containing these and other estrogen-mimicking endocrine disrupters.

"There is a growing body of scientific evidence linking exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and adverse effects on wildlife and human health," the petition states. These chemicals have been linked to health effects, ranging from declining sperm counts and increased incidences of male genital malformations, to increased incidences of certain types of cancer.

The petition asks seven questions of Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development Scott Vaughan. The government will have 120 days to respond.

"Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are ubiquitous and it makes sense to minimize unnecessary exposure," said Gue. "Health Canada has acknowledged this in recent decisions to ban Bisphenol-A in baby bottles and six types of phthalates in soft vinyl toys. We hope that our petition will spur the government to start enforcing the regulatory prohibition on estrogenic substances in cosmetics."

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