San Francisco Chronicle (pg. B4), April 11, 2007
SUPERVISORS TWEAK ORDINANCE BANNING 'TOXIC' CHILD PRODUCTS
[Rachel's introduction: In the face of lawsuits by the chemical industry, the City of San Francisco has modified its precautionary "toxic toy" law, which attempted to ban the sale of children's products that contain certain toxic chemicals.]
By Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors reworked a "toxic toy" ordinance Tuesday that now requires the testing of up to 100 child products a year to see if they contain illegal levels of phthalates, a potentially toxic plastic softener.
Within 18 months, based on the testing, the city will adopt a list of products that will be illegal to sell in San Francisco. In two years, people who sell or make the items would face fines and jail time.
"It's the first law of its kind in the country, and we think it's one more thing that shows that San Francisco is becoming a more family- friendly city," said Supervisor Michela Alioto, who carried major amendments to the law.
The supervisors repealed a section of the law that bans toys and child care products made with bisphenol A, a plastic hardener found in polycarbonate baby bottles, food containers and toys. In a year, the supervisors will reconsider a bisphenol A ban if the state Legislature has not done so.
When the supervisors passed the original law in July 2006, they cited the city's "precautionary principle" requiring a conservative approach to public health. Evidence shows the chemicals can leach out of products and expose vulnerable children, they said.
Researchers have found that phthalates interfere with hormonal systems, disrupt testosterone production and cause malformed sex organs in laboratory animals. At low levels, bisphenol A has been shown to alter the function of the thyroid gland, brain, pancreas and prostate gland in animal studies.
The amended law makes it illegal for manufacturers, distributors and retailers to sell toys and child care products intended for children under age 3 if the products contain certain levels of six forms of phthalates. The European Union also regulates those chemicals, which are common in polyvinyl chloride.
Phthalate manufacturers have sued San Francisco, saying the city lacks regulatory authority. They maintain that phthalate levels in consumer products are too low to pose a threat. The Natural Resources Defense Council has petitioned the San Francisco Superior Court to join the city in defending the city's law.
The chiefs of the city's Environment and Public Health departments recommended that supervisors amend the original law. They felt it had been too tough on retailers who wouldn't know what was in the products. The law lacked enforcement and implementation provisions and didn't include penalties.
"It was asking a lot of local retailers to try to figure out which products contained these chemicals," said Debbie Raphael, toxics- reduction coordinator for the Environment Department. "So the new ordinance will make it clear what the retailers need to do, and it directs these city departments to get the word out to parents and others concerned about the products that they buy for children."
The city expects to test between 75 and 100 products a year, she said, adding that it's unknown how many products will contain phthalates above the allowable levels. The city is working with the state Department of Toxic Substances Control to find testing protocols that are faster and less expensive.
Any manufacturer, retailer or distributor selling an illegal product will be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in the County Jail.
E-mail Jane Kay at email@example.com.
Copyright 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.