The Checkout

Babies v. Rubber Duckies: Round One

Annys Shin

In all the fuss over whether to officially consider the polar bear an endangered species, environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts have apparently overlooked another equally endangered creature: the rubber ducky.

Or so says a group called Consumers for Competitive Choice (C4CC).

C4CC, which says it is "an alliance of consumer organizations with one million members throughout the United States," has launched a campaign entitled "Save the Rubber Duckies!"

Why, you ask, are these creatures in need of saving? Does it have something to do with global warming? Or predators perhaps? Or is their natural habitat being destroyed and replaced by soaking tubs?

No. The threat is far greater. It's called Congress.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are finishing up work on a massive overhaul of the nation's product safety system in the wake of last year's parent-palpitation-inducing recalls of lead tainted toys. As part of that effort, they are considering a ban on phthalates in children's products.

Phthalates are industrial compounds used to soften plastics that have gotten a lot of mostly bad attention lately because they have been linked to reproductive problems in animal studies and are present in many baby bottles and toys. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has said phthalates aren't likely to harm children. However, it also asked manufacturers in the late 1990s to remove the chemicals from teethers, rattlers, nipples, and pacifiers.

Phthalates have their defenders, most notably the companies that make them. They and C4CC vouch not only for the safety of phthalates but also argue that a ban could have dire consequences by promoting the use of untested alternatives.

As far as I know, C4CC is not run by an orange-faced basement apartment dweller named Ernie but by a guy named Bob Johnson who I expect to call me shortly to answer questions about where his group gets its funding. I'll let you know what he says.

I leave it up to you to ponder the substantive issue of whether the safety of alternatives to phthalates should be evaluated before any kind of ban is put in place.

I myself will tackle more superficial issues such as who came up with the idea to cast an inanimate plastic toy as a mascot for phthalates when the chief concern about them involves the health of infants and small children. For one thing, rubber duckies can be made without phthalates so they don't really need saving. Furthermore, when it comes to capturing the heart and minds of average folk, I would think a live human baby trumps a plastic yellow toy every time, no?

In the name of offering unsolicited advice--always the best kind--l say we test out some alternatives of our own. I could only come up with two: "Save di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate!" and
"Love. We spell it D-E-H-P."

Enter yours below.

By Annys Shin |  May 22, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Annys Shin
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First, let me begin by answering your question. We are funded by individuals and organizations that are interested in representing consumers and issues that concern them. We do not receive funding from the chemical industry.

Second, the group is the Child Safety Task Force. C4CC is a member, but there are many others, including consumer groups and research scientists.

Third, it is my understanding that you could not attend so you may not fully understand our efforts. Your blog neglected to mention the fact that we are petitioning the Consumer Product Safety Commission to thoroughly test and regulate all potential substances that would be used as plastic additives in children's toys.

When a parent provides plastic toys for his or her child, they should do so with confidence that the toy meets product safety standards. That is the point of the Task Force and the point of our Petition to the CPSC. To reduce it to a "ducks vs babies" fight is unfair and inaccurate.

Oh, by the way, fourth, I am not orange, but I do work in my basement.

Posted by: Bob Johnson | May 22, 2008 11:42 AM

Hi Bob! Thank you for posting on the blog. I always tell people to do that but for some reason, despite all this Web 2.0 business, people are reluctant too. Also appreciate your clearing up that you are not orange faced. (So many people have no sense of humor, don't you find?)

Posted by: annys | May 22, 2008 2:27 PM

Even though the Consumer Protection Safety Commission calls the exposure a child gets to phthalates "safe," they only test one exposure from one type of phthalate (there are literally thousands). They do not account for the whomping dose children and adults get with repeated exposures over time. Phthalates have been shown to cause kidney damage, hormonal imbalances, miscarriage and asthma. They wind up in everything from the dust on your coffee table to your drinking water to human blood and breast milk. And that's why groups like C4CC, the Environmental Working Group, the Coalition for Safe Cosmetics and others are so concerned about what's in a little rubber ducky.

Posted by: Laurie Boris | May 23, 2008 12:22 PM

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