Supervisor Alioto-Pier strengthens ordinance protecting children's health

(January 23, 2007)

In order to strengthen an existing city ordinance banning certain chemicals in children's toys, Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier introduced a series of amendments designed to make the Healthy Products/Healthy Children Ordinance enforceable, and to increase the role of science in identifying risks to children's health.

"San Francisco changed the nation's public health landscape when we became the first city in the country to ban smoking from public buildings, restaurants, and outdoor spaces," noted Supervisor Alioto-Pier. "This Ordinance banning toxic toys will likewise be a catalyst for positive change."

As the Ordinance was originally conceived, all children's products containing certain chemicals called phthalates were declared illegal to sell in San Francisco. However, there was no agency charged with making sure these items were pulled from shelves, and there were no penalties for non-compliance. Moreover, toys and other plastic items do not come with labels that disclose all of the chemical contents, so local toy stores would find it almost impossible to know what items were subject to the ban short of conducting chemical tests. The new Ordinance charges the Department of Public Health and the Department of the Environment to develop a "don't buy" list of toys that contain phthalates, and sets penalties for stores that continue to carry the banned items.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals that are used as an additive in a number of consumer products and are commonly used to make plastics flexible for use in children's toys, as well as other products. Phthalates have been shown to leach out of these products when they are bent, chewed or exposed to warm liquids and saliva. They have also been shown to cause reproductive harm including genital defects, sperm damage, reduced testosterone production, and premature deliveries.

The case against phthalates is strong. They have been banned in the European Union since the early 1990s, and the US EPA requested plastics manufacturers to stop using phthalates on a voluntary basis.

"The Healthy Products/Healthy Children Ordinance is an example of the Precautionary Principle at work," said Supervisor Alioto-Pier. "Parents in San Francisco and across the country are not able to make informed purchasing decisions regarding children's products because there is no requirement to list phthalates on product labels. Therefore, in the absence of Federal restrictions or labeling of products, San Francisco is forced to take action."

Bisphenol A, banned outright in the original Ordinance, is also a chemical of concern. Scientists around the world are building the case that it, too, should be subject to regulation. At very low doses, Bisphenol A can affect brain chemistry and structure, behavior, and both the male and female reproductive system. The amended Ordinance asks the State to rule on Bisphenol A, but gives the City authority to propose regulatory options if the State hasn't taken action within one year

"The Chemical industry is very much threatened by the Healthy Products/Healthy Children Ordinance, and they are coming after us with all their legal might," said Supervisor Alioto-Pier. "But the industry can be challenged, and will be challenged. The City is fighting back, and we're eager to join forces with environmental health organizations, health professionals, doctors, nurses, and research scientists to ensure the health of this and future generations."