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PVC TOYS AND PHTHALATES

Greenpeace press release September 17, 1997.

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Original press release and answer of the Chlorophiles

NEW YORK, Sept. 17 --- Greenpeace today released the results of a scientific study showing that toys made of soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, contain toxic chemicals that can leach when chewed or sucked on by children.

The tests were conducted on 63 PVC toys from the United States and 16 other countries, which are designed to be put in young childrens' mouths, such as teething rings. All of the toys contained between 10 and 40 percent by weight of toxic chemical additives used to make the toys soft and flexible. These softeners belong to a group of chemicals called phthalates and are known to leak from PVC products during use, especially when pressure is applied, such as when a small child sucks or chews on a PVC teething ring.

Answer: What Greenpeace fails to measure in their "scientific" study, is how much phthalate is really leaking from this toys. That is the only thing that matters.
The acute toxicity of several commercial phthalates is so low that enormous quantities must be fed to animals to reach the MTD (maximum tolerated dose), equivalent to 500 g/day for an adult. DEHP, the most common phthalate is considered as non-toxic and non-irritant. DEHP is approved for use in food packaging materials by the US FDA and the EU Scientific Committee for Foodstuffs. PVC plasticised with DEHP is the only flexible material approved by the European Pharmocopoeia for use in blood and plasma transfusion equipment.

Greenpeace started a similar scare, some time ago in the UK, because of small amounts of phthalates found in babyfood. They used the same scaring tactics, see Greenpeace, PVC and hormonal changes, the UK babyfood case.

The dominant chemical found in the tested toys is toxic when ingested by animals, with health effects ranging from tumors and liver and kidney damage to reproductive abnormalities. Several of the softeners have been identified as possessing the ability to disrupt the hormone system, a phenomenon known as endocrine disruption.

Answer: As mentioned before, the acute toxicity of phthalates is extremely low. Of course if you continuously administer doses as high as the MTD, you will find effects, caused by the dose, not the toxicity of the product. See "Too many rodent carcinogens" of Bruce N. Ames.
In the case of DEHP, large amounts given to rats resulted in liver tumors, specific for the biology of rats (peroxisome proliferation). The same effects were NOT observed in primates (marmosets and monkeys). The EC Commission therefore decided on July 25, 1990 that DEHP should not be classified or labeled as a carcinogenic substance.

"Several of the softeners", a typical Greenpeace statement. In this case only two phthalates, dibutylphthalate (DBP, also naturally found in selery and lovage!) and butylbenzylphthalate (BBP) mainly used in printing inks, showed very weak oestrogenic activity (one millionth of the strength of the natural female hormone oestradiol) in SOME in vitro tests, but showed no effect in other tests [21] [22] [23] [24]. All the more common phthalates like DEHP, DINPand DIDP (diisodecylphthalate) have been tested and found to be negative [21].

The most recent in-vivo studies specifically intended to look for oestrogenic effects, showed no effect for all phthalates, ranging from DBP to DIDP [22].

In addition, exposure to rats to DINP [25] and DIDP [26] in utero, during lactation, puberty and adulthood in multi-generation tests didn't affect testicular size, sperm count, morphology or motility neither produced any reproductive fertility effects.

"The toy industry is unnecessarily putting small children at risk during one of the most vulnerable periods of their development," said Dr. David Santillo of Exeter University in the UK, and staff scientist for Greenpeace International. "When children suck and chew on soft PVC toys, it is similar to squeezing a sponge. Water comes out of the sponge, just as the hazardous softeners can come out of the toys."

This is typical Greenpeace scaremongering... Especially when they "forget" to measure the real amounts, leaking from the toys under realistic circumstances...

Based on recent testing, the Danish and Dutch governments are now taking action to reduce the risk to children posed by the possible leaching of soft vinyl toys. The Italian company Chicco voluntarily withdrew three teething rings from the market in Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Greece and Argentina. Several major European toy retailers have removed soft PVC toys for small children from their shelves.

Answer: The scare started in Denmark, when some teething rings showed an unnormal (1000 times higher than normal) leakage of phthalates. Other toys didn't show such high leakage. Tests of the same rings of the same brand in Belgium, Spain and Italy, showed normal below limits extraction. The test in The Netherlands was slightly above the TDI (tolerated daily intake), but their test itself used extreme conditions: a vibration of 55,000 Hz is not what you expect from a baby mouth...
As precaution, the firm withdrew all its teething rings from the different markets. And indeed, some govenments and firms followed by warning for or withdrawing toys of soft PVC, especially intended to be used for biting by small children. But the Greenpeace press release in The Netherlands that several firms intended to withdraw all PVC toys, is far from the truth...
Strange difference: while the Denmark case - a problem with one toy from one brand - was enough to start a scare troughout Europe, where several governments asked to withdraw soft-PVC toys as precautionary measure, a similar case, a high level of nitrosamines in rubber baby soothers of a certain brand only started the withdrawal of that particular product, not of all rubber children's products...

On October 22, 1997, the European committee on consumer safety will come together to see what kind of test should be used all over Europe, to have the same testconditions for all countries and the same safety limits. That will end the complete confusion that exists now.

Greenpeace also released a "shopping list" of specific toys and non-PVC alternatives by brand name to guide parents and consumers in the 100 days before Christmas. "Until today, parents have not been informed about the potential hazards of PVC toys," said Lisa Finaldi, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner. "It is negligent to label vinyl children's toys `non-toxic' when they contain chemicals that require warning labels in laboratories. We encourage all families to play safe by avoiding PVC toys." Greenpeace is calling on toy manufacturers and retailers to eliminate PVC toys from their product lines.

Answer: Anti-PVC hate? Fund-raising by scaring parents? Has Greenpeace tested the "safe" alternatives for leaking chemicals? If not, how do they know that these are not more "toxic"? Every production uses "toxic" chemicals which are labeled according their (possible) toxicity. That doesn't mean that these chemicals pose a risk for children at the much lower doses that do leak from the toys they use.
The unnormal leaking test in Denmark was published in april this year. Why Greenpeace waited until September to launch their action against PVC toys? Are they not interested in children's safety, but only interested in the best moment to start their action?

Spurred by a 1996 Consumer Product Safety Commission warning on lead poisoning hazards from vinyl miniblinds, Greenpeace began an investigation of PVC products and their additives. Greenpeace first alerted the toy industry to the issue in August 1996 and met with its trade association, the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI). ICTI chose not to take any action, so Greenpeace decided to directly warn the public of the potential hazards of PVC toys.

Answer: The only aim of Greenpeace is to stop all chlorine uses at the year 2000, for reasons only known to God and themselves. To reach that aim, all methods are allowed, even if they have to promote alternatives that are proven to be worse for health and/or environment, unsafer for the user and/or far more expensive...

PVC is the most environmentally damaging plastic throughout its lifecycle, from its production to use to its inevitable disposal. PVC is made from chlorine, therefore it cannot be made or burned (incineration or accidental fires) without creating and releasing highly toxic compounds such as dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced.

Answer: I do challenge Greenpeace to find any entire lifecycle analyses in the world, not made by themselves or a commercially involved company, that clearly shows that PVC is significantly worse for the environment than any other plastic for any purpose. Evidence of the opposite view from independent companies and governments can be found at: Life Cycle Analyses of PVC and alternatives in applications.

No product can be made without producing dioxins, be it from its raw materials or its energy use. In many cases, the amounts released are higher than for PVC in its entire life cycle, including (accidental) incineration, see Dioxin emissions of materials during their life cycle. PVC production is responsible for less than one thousandth of dioxin releases to air in all Western countries. The addition or withdrawal of PVC in waste has no or a neglible effect on dioxin emissions from incinerators, see Chlorine input and dioxin emissions. The quality of incineration makes the difference.See also the ASME Research Report summary on chlorine input and incinerators.
Besides that, other releases (PAH's,...) from alternative materials can be of much higher importance.

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Other's opinion

To end with some remarks from third parties: In the UK, under Greenpeace pressure, a number of retailers formed a working group with them to discuss the (further) use of PVC in packaging and construction. After a number of presentations, the group decided to appoint "an independent scientist to review the evidence concerning the impact of PVC on human health and the environment on the balance of properties".

The National Centre for Business & Ecology (NCBE) assembled a small team of specialists from different UK universities to provide a sufficiently broad skill base for the task. Their conclusion [27]:

"The study team was unable to find conclusive scientific evidence linking the production, use or disposal of PVC compounds where best industry practice is utilised to substantial harm to human health. Likewise conclusive evidence of serious environmental harm resulting from manufacture, use or disposal undertaken to the highest standards was not found, although past and some current production/disposal falls short of those standards. Where there is evidence of harm to human health or the environment, evidence that PVCs form a major factor set against other processes or products was not found."

Their comment on the Greenpeace web site information:

"One problem with the Greenpeace literature, however, is its lack of selectivity or of any critical appraisal. All studies, ranging the methodologically-hopeless to those of the highest quality are all quoted as if they are equivalent sources of damning information on the PVC industry"

No further comment...

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CONCLUSION

This (not so) new story of Greenpeace is the next move to discredit a product without any scientific reason. In fact as an environmentalist for more than thirty years, I do feel heavily outraged by this green multinational. I have two daughters, which can be mothers within a few years. If there was any serious reason to blame PVC for damaging the life of future generations, I would be the first to look for another job. But so far I haven't seen any valid argument to do that. To the contrary, all the arguments I have seen from Greenpeace were false, exaggerated - up to a millionfold - or completely outdated.
After six years of discussion with them, I still don't know why they are doing that. But I am pretty sure that it has very little to do with care for the environment.

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You are at level one of the Chlorophiles answer pages.

Created: October 10, 1997.
Last update: March 7, 1999.

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