Keeping kids’ toys safe


Journalist Mark Schapiro, whose book Exposed was recently the basis for a special feature on PBS’ NOW program that focused on phthalates—a hard-to-pronounce but damaging group of chemicals found in many children’s toys—is taking on the chemical industry’s apologists.

Elizabeth Whalen took him to task earlier this year on The Huffington Post, calling him an “activist,” which to journalists is about as slanderous as it gets. Schapiro took up Whalen’s outing and used what all journalists use when they write stories—facts—to show that his book and his reporting are on firm ground, not simply based on alarmist claims.

Check out Whalen’s post here and Schapiro’s riposte.

And, in case you were wondering phthalates make plastics soft and pliable and chewy for kids—the reason why a rubber ducky is so darn inviting.

Here’s a sample of the back-and-forth:


Contrast the activist scare about phthalates with the scientific reality: there is no evidence whatsoever—not even a hint—of health problems from phthalates in any consumer products used by children or adults. That is the conclusion of esteemed scientists from the Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and universities around the world — and a blue ribbon panel on phthalates and health chaired by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. The issue has been addressed and studied extensively.


Dozens of studies of rodents and, increasingly, of humans have demonstrated precisely that: the evidence suggests strongly that phthalates disrupt the developing endocrine system of infant boys (at this stage, most of the research does focus on boys because phthalates affect production of the male sexual hormone, testosterone). A study published last week in the journal Pediatrics found evidence of phthalates in every one of the 163 infants under thirteen months that a team of scientists tested for the synthetic substance. Why does this matter? Studies in Denmark concluded in 2006 that high levels of phthalates in mother’s breast milk contributed to lower levels of testosterone production in their male offspring in the first three months of life.

After challenging Whalen’s claims, Schapiro has found a new foe in Trevor Butterworth, who offers a counter-argument Schapiro’s counter-argument here. Here’s a snippet:

But there’s a problem: if you are going to muckrake with science, you need to be able to refute scientific evidence which doesn’t agree with your hypothesis. That’s how science works. Posit a theory, find evidence (or find data and posit a theory), test that evidence and theory against everything else out there.

This, Shapiro doesn’t do. He takes only the evidence that supports his position and avoids addressing the problems with it, even though these problems are substantial.

OK, Mark, the squishy phthalate-soaked ball is in your court.

You may like...

Read The Book


The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power


Recent Articles

Survive the Winter Blues: Grow, Eat and Plan

There is no denying it: the days are short and unless you planned for a winter garden, fresh vegetables from your backyard have long passed. But don’t let the winter get you down. There are plenty of recipes to last you through the cold season and into the ‘hungry gap’. And we’ve shared a few…

Read More

Books to Curl up with this Winter!

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading…

Read More

Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans. Seriously.

Thinking about getting rid of that pair of worn out jeans? Think again. You could use them to grow mushrooms. That’s right, mushrooms. Mycologist Tradd Cotter has been experimenting with mushroom cultivation for more than 20 years. Through his ongoing research he has not only discovered the best ways to successfully grow morels but also…

Read More

Q&A with Kate Raworth about her radical new book, DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS

Q: First things first: Why did you want to write this book? A: I studied economics at university 25 years ago because I wanted to make a difference in the world and believed that economics – the mother tongue of public policy – would best equip me to do that. Instead, its theories left me…

Read More

How to Make Biochar

Doing some spring cleaning around your property? By making biochar from brush and other hard-to-compost organic material, you can improve soil—it enhances nutrient availability and also enables soil to retain nutrients longer. This excerpt from The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume 3, explains how to get started. To make biochar right in your garden, start by…

Read More