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National Environmental Trust Welcomes Mattel’s
Commitment to Replace
Phthalate-Containing Material in Toys

by Nora Cody
Oakland, California

This article is part of a series of commentaries by Nora Cody, First Do No Harm: A Consumer Health Advocate's Cautionary Tales, which examines issues in health and medical research, with a special focus on women's health topics.

In Washington D.C., 7 December, the National Environmental Trust (NET) welcomes Mattel’s announcement that they will begin introducing organically-derived material that doesn’t contain phthalates for use in every Mattel product line. According to NET, Mattel’s announcement represents a significant commitment to the health and well being of the children who play with their toys.

Mattel Inc., the maker of Barbie, Power Wheels and Fisher-Price toys, said it hoped to begin making products from renewable materials as early as 2001, initially in toys aimed at children under 3 years old.

In Mattel’s announcement, the company recognized the ongoing scientific debate over the safety of phthalates (chemicals added to soften plastic vinyl), indicating that the company has already eliminated phthalates from teethers and other toys intended for the mouth. "We understand that Mattel’s commitment represents a substantial investment of resources in identifying new substances and retooling production lines," said Jeff Wise, policy director for the National Environmental Trust. Mattel provided no timetable for the introduction of the new, non-phthalate containing material. "We hope the company will respond to the requests of physicians, consumer advocates, religious leaders, and environmentalists to label toys with phthalates that continue to be sold" said Wise, "so parents can make informed decisions about the toys they’re buying for their children."

If substitutes are found, they could be used in all Mattel brands and product lines and replace polyvinyl chloride and a controversial group of chemical additives called phthalates that are used in soft plastic toys, the company said. Some phthalate compounds have been linked to cancer and kidney and liver damage in animals, and their threat to humans is being studied.

The announcement was immediately hailed as a "revolutionary step" by Greenpeace, the international environmental group, which has led an aggressive fight against toys made with phthalates. "With Mattel an industry leader, this is a sea change for the toy industry and perhaps for the use of plastics in general," said Rick Hind, legislative director for Greenpeace's campaign. As for Barbie, Hind added, "she will become even healthier and a truly natural beauty."

Wise said the importance of labeling during the transition cannot be overstated in light of new test results his organization will announce that found high levels of phthalates in four bath and squeeze toys manufactured by Mattel.

The National Environmental Trust encourages other toy companies to follow Mattel’s leadership on this issue.

Published in In Motion Magazine November 19, 1997