At first I thought it was an April Fool's joke. Sadly, it wasn't. ME on Wednesday ran a story by Jon Hamilton, lamenting the Congressional ban on phthalates--chemicals used to soften plastics--from being used in children's toys. For some reason, Hamilton appears to really, really like phthalates. Either that, or he just turns to mush when he sees a lab coat, because he basically just turned the story over to the government researcher (Dr. Wind) who claims the chemical is not a problem for children who ingest it.
To be certain, at no point does Wind say that phthalates aren't toxic, only that most children probably don't chew on plastic long enough each day to warrant banning the chemical. Hamilton explains that another form of phthalate had been found to cause cancer. Bizarrely, he somehow interprets the fact that the plastics industry had been forced to "voluntarily" stop using the chemicals as evidence that this new version must be safe, even though it was linked to liver disease. The article ends with a joint quote from Wind and Hamilton criticizing the ban on the chemical: "Sometimes people don't listen to the good science...even when it comes from the government scientists we pay for good advice."
Where has Jon Hamilton been living for the past eight years?!! It is as if he has never heard of any of the myriad perversions of science and policy that occurred under the Bush Administration (during which the studies on phthalate were finalized) where politics overruled science and health concerns in everything from asbestos dust at ground zero to FEMA trailers to global warming.
Now, I'm not a chemist or a physician, and I certainly don't claim to have any particular insight into the health risks posed by phthalates, and I'm not saying that the good Dr. Wind is wrong. I'm just saying it seems insanely credulous of NPR to simply take the word of a government administrator during the Bush administration who says the chemical is good to eat, and to dismiss out of hand anybody--including scientists and researchers outside the government--who says otherwise.
It took me a little less than 30 seconds to turn up a report by the National Academy of Sciences that says that the federal studies may seriously underestimate the risks posed by phthalates by failing to adequately account for cumulative effects. And I suppose it should be no surprise that the article included not a single mention of the fact that phthalates are banned in Europe under the EU program that requires manufacturers to demonstrate that a chemical is safe before it can be used in commercial products.