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California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has authorised a ban on toys and child products containing "more than a trace amount" of plastic-softening phthalates, AP reports.

The proscription, which comes into force at the start of 2009, marks California as the first state to move against phthalates which are "widely used in baby bottles, soft baby books, teething rings, plastic bath ducks and other toys", according to the bill's author, democrat Assemblywoman Fiona Ma of San Francisco.

Ma told AP: "I think parents will be comforted that when they buy one of these chewy products it will be safe."

The use of phthalates is a controversial topic. Back in 2006, we reported on a Greenpeace Netherlands warning that popular sex toys, including "dildos, vibrators and butt plugs" may contain high levels of the chemicals. The organisation warned: "Remember, these are chemicals which do not easily biodegrade and can be dangerous - even in small amounts."

The Phthalates Information Centre Europe disagreed, citing "EU Risk Assessments" of five commonly-used phthalates which noted that diisononyl phthalate (DINP) and diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) show "no risks to human health or the environment for any current use".

Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), though, did demonstrate "some potential risk to plants in the vicinity of processing sites and possibly to workers through inhalation", while the risk assessments for butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) and DEHP remained open as "scientific data is still being considered".

Back in September 2004, the EU Competitiveness Council voted for a permanent ban - which came into force in January 2006 - on DEHP, DBP and BBP for use in all PVC toys, and also banned DINP, DIDP, and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) "from toys and child care items that children can put in the mouth".

As we noted at the time, the EU Risk Assessment for DINP and DIDP (published April 2006) "added weight to industry suspicions that environmental pressure groups have for political reasons exaggerated the risks posed by phthalates".

Whatever the actual risk posed by phthalates, the campaign to see the back of them is evidently gaining momentum. According to AP, Maryland, New York and Oregon are also mulling bills that would ban phthalates in "certain products". ®

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