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Despite Additive Ban, Some Parents Voice Worry

It is nearly impossible for consumers to tell whether a children's product contains phthalates because chemical ingredients are not listed. Some toy manufacturers do not even know what is in the plastic they buy from suppliers.

Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, which lobbied in favor of the phthalates ban, suggested that parents get rid of soft, squeezable plastic teethers, rattles and other toys and wait until the ban takes effect before buying replacements.

"Don't keep them around your house for visiting friends with children, or to gather dust in your child's room," she said. "And don't give them as hand-me-downs to relatives or charities."

Zuckerman stressed that she was referring to soft plastic toys, such as plastic books, rubber ducks and teething toys.

She also cautioned that many shampoos and lotions for babies and children contain phthalates. Personal care products are not covered by the ban because the legislation applies to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which does not have jurisdiction over cosmetics, shampoos and lotions. Zuckerman said the next goal for health advocates is to bar phthalates from cosmetics, perfumes and products that children and adults slather on their skin, which readily absorbs the chemicals.

"Everybody in Congress is now well aware that phthalates are ubiquitous and exposure is coming from many different products," Zuckerman said. "And children's toys are probably not the main culprit. Clearly, the next step is personal care products."

Sara LaFountain, a 39-year-old Rockville mother, has four sons and a 7-month-old daughter, Diane. LaFountain got rid of all the plastic toys and bottles that belonged to Diane's brothers, which she had planned to pass down to her only girl.

Instead, Diane gets wooden toys and the occasional plastic giraffe manufactured in Germany that meets European Union safety standards and is made without phthalates. LaFountain also got rid of plastic sippy cups for her small children, replacing them with stainless-steel cups. "I try to make our house as safe as possible," she said.

LaFountain and several other parents interviewed said they felt let down by the government because they do not think it has been safeguarding children's health.

"My oldest is 12, so if this had been banned 10 years ago, he wouldn't have been exposed to as many bad toys," LaFountain said. "I feel upset about that. But you can't go back in time. You can only go on from here."

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