First, the good news: Phthalates are still leaching from your kid's vinyl toys, and Bisphenol-A is still leaching from your polycarbonate bottles and the linings of your formula cans!
At first, when it was named Worst Science Story of 2007 by STATS, George Mason University's non-partisan science/statistics/media watchdog group, I was all embarrassed to have gotten sucked into the hysteria last year surrounding San Francisco's "PET bottle/phthalate/carcinogenic plastic'll kill'ya, let's ban it" movement.
As STATS gloats, the ban--and the media dogpile that followed--was all based on our inability to read long, scientifickal words:
The mayor – and the journalists who dutifully conveyed his fears to the public – seemed oblivious to the fact that plastic bottles do not contain phthalates; they are, instead, made with a polyester called polyethylene terephthalate, which is something quite different even though it seems to sound similar. But that’s chemistry for you. Poylethylene terephthalate, or PET for short, is not considered a health hazard by any regulatory agency in the world.D'oh! In your face, non-science statisticians!
Except that in at least the SF Chronicle's reporting on the issue, phthalates are clearly not associated with PET, but with PVC, a soft vinyl used in toys. And the stated problem with PET isn't phthalates or toxins, but their environmental impact. And the toxicity questions raised with hard plastic weren't about PET or phthalates; they're about PC and BPA.
In their eager glee to take down the prophets of the coming "Chemicapocalypse," STATS is wilfully misleading. They're conflating stories and obscuring and dismissing still-valid questions of plastics safety, and cherrypicking problematic research examples for mockery ["So, um, don’t eat air fresheners."] while ignoring broad expressions of actual concern by doctors and scientists [like the NIH's Toxicology Panel, which identified several areas of BPA-related risks that needed further study--like its effects on pregnant women and newborns.]
And then there's this,
One study has drawn a statistical association between exposure to some phthalates in the womb and borderline changes in genital development. But contrary to the way the media have reported this study, the children were all healthy and had normal reproductive functioning. [emphasis original]which I take to be a dismissive reference to early onset puberty. Way to pick on the 10-yo girl with breasts, STATS.
And now for the bad news: Robert Hundermer, the CPSC's lone full-time toy inspector, who described the space behind his door where he dropped stuff as "the toy lab for all of America -- for all of the United States government!" and who was identified by CPSC Chairwoman Nancy Nord in her testimony to Congress as "Bob, our small parts guy," has retired.
Not to worry, though, a CPSC spokesperson said Bob's duties have been taken up by others in the lab. And besides, explained Nord, he was really only "an urban myth." So wait, is it good news or bad news that the CPSC is run by someone who thinks an urban myth is more reassuring than an actual toy inspector?
It's good news for Bob, though; he's going into private toy safety consulting.
Also good news; everything is still made in China and coated with lead.
The Worst Science Stories of 2007: STATS Dubious Data Awards [stats.org via choire @kottke]
Goodbye To Bob [washpost via consumerist]