Green Toys Tugboats made from recycled plastic milk containers that are free of pthalates, BPA and PVC. The federal government is concerned about the long-term effects of products containing pthalates in children, who may suck or chew rubber bath toys. ((Mark Lennihan/Associated Press))

The federal government said Tuesday it will place new restrictions on the use of six phthalates in children's toys and some child-care products.

Phthalates are chemicals used to make polyvinyl chloride — a type of plastic — flexible. They are also used to hold colour and scents in certain products. Sometimes referred to as plasticizers, phthalates can be found in a wide range of consumer products, including perfumes, nail polish, vinyl floors, detergents, lubricants, food packaging, soap, paint, shampoo, toys, air fresheners and plastic bags.

There is no immediate health risk from the chemicals, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq told a news conference in Ottawa. 

Phthalates commonly used in products include:

  • DBP (dibutyl phthalate).
  • DINP (diisononyl phthalate).
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate).
  • DEHP (di 2-ethylhexl phthalate).
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate).
  • BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate).
  • DNOP (di-n-octyl phthalate).
  • DIDP (Diisodecyl phthalate).

"But we are concerned about the long-term effects they could have on children when the soft vinyl is sucked or chewed — like a bib or a rubber duck for instance," Aglukkaq said. "Research shows that exposure to even low levels of certain phthalates can affect a child's development and behaviour."

The regulations will help ensure that children’s toys and child-care articles imported, sold or advertised in Canada do not present a risk of phthalate exposure to young children, Aglukkaq added.

The new rules are an expansion of restrictions in Canada and follow similar moves in the United States. The European Union adopted more severe restrictions in 1999.

In force in June

Some medical research has suggested phthalates may have feminizing properties in humans, while other research has said phthalates might be linked with abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in men.

The new restrictions will limit the allowable concentrations of DEHP, DBP and BBP to no more than 1,000 milligrams per kilogram in the soft vinyl of all children’s toys and child-care products. They will also restrict the permitted concentrations of  DINP, DIDP and DNOP to no more than 1,000 mg/kg in the same products where children under four years old might put the soft vinyl in their mouths.

The new restrictions come into force on June 10.

In 1998, Health Canada asked industry to voluntarily stop marketing soft vinyl "buccal" products — those meant to be put in the mouths of young children, such as pacifiers, teethers, rattles and baby bottle nipples — in Canada if they contained the phthalates DINP and DEHP.

However, the government subsequently found soft vinyl toys and child-care articles on the market that contained phthalates but were not covered by the voluntary ban.

Rick Smith, the executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, applauded the Canadian government's latest move to bring the country's measures in line with the U.S. and European Union.

New Democrat Glenn Thibeault, the party's consumer protection critic, called on Ottawa to devote enough resources to protect children through proper monitoring and enforcement of the latest prohibition.   

The federal government said it will use about 30 more inspectors to check for harmful chemicals including phthalates.

Since 2009, any children's product sold or distributed in California has not been able to contain more than one-tenth of one per cent of phthalates. The European Union has outlawed the use of DEHP, DBP and BBP in children's products. DINP, DNOP and DIDP are also banned in toys that children under the age of three might put in their mouths.

After the ban takes effect, manufacturers who don't comply could face fines as high as $5 million.