- July 30 - Polymer clays contain chemicals that may threaten children's health,
according to a new study released today by the Public Interest Research Groups
(PIRGs). Hidden Hazards: Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays documents laboratory
tests indicating that children using polymer clays marketed under the brand names
Sculpey, Fimo, and Cernit can be exposed to high levels of phthalates (pronounced
"tha-lates"), chemicals associated with reproductive disorders, birth
deformities, and other health effects. The clays are highly popular at schools,
child care centers, and arts centers.
"Polymer clays contain hidden hazards that may harm children's health
even when are used as directed on the package," said Curt McCormack, director
of advocacy for Vermont PIRG, which produced the study. "These products show
the failure of our regulatory systems - playing with the clays can result in exposure
levels many times higher than regulations for situations like drinking water or
Phthalates are petroleum derivatives used to soften plastics, and also found
in cosmetics, shampoo, hair spray, and other products. Lab research shows that
various phthalate esters can reduce fertility, cause abnormal reproductive problems
in male offspring, such as testicular atrophy, and give rise to liver and thyroid
damage. Some occupational evidence links phthalate exposure to high rates of miscarriage
in female workers, and long-term nerve damage.
According to the report, the clays tested contained up to 14% phthalates by
weight. Among the phthalate compounds identified were Di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP),
Benzyl Butyl phthalate (BBP), Di-n-Hexyl phthalate (DnHP) and Di (ethyl hexyl)
terphthalate (DEHT). Five other phthalate esters were located in the products
but the identity of these compounds was not determined in the research.
DnOP and DnHP are associated with reproductive damage, liver and thyroid damage.
BBP is associated with reproductive effects, birth deformities, nerve damage and
is a suspected EPA carcinogen in animals. DEHT is a compound thought to be used
in relatively low volumes, about which little is known.
"Phthalate compounds clearly have the potential to damage health in developing
organisms," said U.S. PIRG environmental health advocate Jeremiah Baumann.
"There is no excuse for a regulatory system that allows children's products
to contain these chemical in unrestricted amounts and no excuse for manufacturers'
misleading labeling these clays as 'non-toxic.'"
The report criticized the clays' 'non-toxic' certification, given by the Arts
and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI), comprised of manufacturers of art and
crafts material manufacturers. The ACMI did not consider the full range of chemicals
that were found in the report when designating the clays as 'non-toxic'.
The report points out the broader problem that the regulation of toxic chemicals
in U.S. federal law to protect humans from exposure to toxic chemicals is grossly
inadequate. Thousands of industrial chemicals were not tested before going on
the market, and federal law hampers regulators' ability to restrict the use of
known hazardous chemicals.
"Many people assume that just because a product is on the market it has
been tested and is safe," said McCormack. "This is wrong. Many consumer
products contain chemicals known to have toxic effect or about which we know very
A federal panel reviewing phthalates' effects on human reproduction decided
that even though BBP, DnOP and DnHP showed associations with reproductive damage,
human health risks were low because exposures were assumed to be minimal. As a
result, they determined that these chemicals were of minor consequence if used
in consumer products. However, the PIRG report indicates that the use of even
small amounts of polymer clay could expose children to levels of phthalates much
higher than the federal panel predicted as the average for adults, and calls into
question their assumptions that the chemicals are insignificant.
In addition to exposing children to phthalates, polymer clays can release a
highly toxic hydrochloric acid gas when overheated in the oven. The fumes are
noxious, have a strong smell, and are emitted when the oven temperature is set
The State PIRGs urged the Consumer Product Safety Commission to place a moratorium
on the sale of polymer clay products until and unless their potential health effects
are fully investigated and phthalate exposure eliminated. They called on manufacturers
to drop their claims of nontoxic status for the clays and to immediately reformulate
them to eliminate phthalate exposure. The report authors also advised parents
to prevent children's exposure to these clays until the products are made safe.
Vermont PIRG (VPIRG) is Vermont's leading watchdog and advocacy organization.
Supported by members since 1972, VPIRG's mission is to promote and protect the
health of Vermont's environment, people, and locally-based economy.
U.S. PIRG is the national advocacy office for the state Public Interest
Research Groups. State PIRGs are nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest advocacy
"Hidden Hazards: Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays" is
available at www.toysafety.net.