Sacramento -- One day after California became the first state in the nation to ban toys containing toxic plastic softeners, supporters of the measure announced plans Monday to help at least nine other states - and perhaps even Congress - enact similar laws.The movement to ban phthalates began in San Francisco last year when the city's Board of Supervisors imposed the nation's first restrictions on consumer products that contain the chemical compounds, which have been linked to hormone problems in laboratory animals.
On Sunday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state law, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2009.
Lawmakers in Texas, Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, Maine, Connecticut and New York are expected to introduce similar legislation in the coming months, according to environmental and breast cancer groups that sponsored the California measure.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wants to replicate the California prohibition nationally, although no time frame has been established, a spokesman for her office said Monday.
"We've been looking at this and saying, 'If we can get this passed in California, can we get the ball rolling in these other states?' " said Dan Jacobson, legislative director for Environment California, a nonprofit advocacy group that was a key supporter of the state's phthalates ban. "It's the same pattern that we've seen with the global warming bills that have been passed."
Widely used in a variety of consumer products, phthalates are a family of chemicals most often used as a softener of plastic. Some critics say the chemicals can make up as much as half of the material used to make plastic toys and are also used to make baby teethers.
Researchers say regular contact with phthalates - chewing on plastic toys containing the chemicals, for example - may cause hormonal damage in young children and increase the chances of serious illness later in life.
Phthalates are banned in 14 nations and the European Union, and alternative materials are being used, according to marketing experts. McDonald's, for example, makes toys for its meal packages that have complied with Europe's ban on phthalates, and some hospitals in the United States are removing IV bags that contain the chemicals.
The California ban, authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, will prohibit manufacturers from selling products containing phthalates in California in any item intended for use by children under the age of 3.
Industry groups continue to maintain that phthalates are safe.
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"This law is the product of the politics of fear," Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, said in a statement Monday. "It is not good science, and it is not good government.
"Thorough scientific reviews in this country and in Europe have found these toys safe for children to use," he said. "California businesses will now be obliged to take products off the shelves that their customers need and want."
Ma said Monday that the governor's signing of her bill, AB1108, sends a clear message to Washington that states are ready to act.
"California continues to lead the nation in protecting children from dangerous chemicals and in safeguarding our environment," she said. "AB1108 sends a clear message to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that if the Bush administration won't act, states will."
Gretchen Lee, spokeswoman for the Breast Cancer Fund, said there is growing evidence linking phthalates to diseases including breast cancer - a good reason for other states to follow California's ban.
"Phthalates are a problem no matter where you live," she said. "We hope that AB1108 will serve as a model to other states so that they will have the same protections as Californian's children."
With the passage of the California law, it is unclear what is next for the San Francisco ordinance.
Although the ordinance was the first of its kind in the nation, officials said Monday that they expect the state law will take precedent.
San Francisco was in the process of testing child products for evidence of illegal levels of the chemicals, in order to provide a list of illegal products that could be given to retailers in the city.
Phthalates manufacturers sued San Francisco in an attempt to overturn the program, saying the city lacked regulatory authority. The suit could become immaterial with the enactment of the state law, although officials in San Francisco and Sacramento said Monday they were studying the legal issues.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle