Polymer clays are a form of modeling clay that have become popular in recent years among children, adolescents and adult craftspeople. They are inexpensive, come in a variety of colors, are soft at room temperature, can be molded by hand into small or large items, and can be baked in a conventional oven at low heat, resulting in a permanent hard object. Fimo and Sculpey are the most common brand names of polymer clays in the U.S., but other different product lines exist. Unfortunately, these clays contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) mixed with phthalate (pronounced tha- late) plasticizers. While the phthalate plasticizers make the clay soft and workable, they are also associated with potential health risks. Phthalates as a class of chemicals have been implicated in birth defects, reproductive problems, nerve system damage and other negative health effects.
VPIRG’s research indicates that children and adults using polymer clays may be exposed to phthalates at harmful levels. Even when clays are prepared following proper package directions, children and adults can breathe or ingest high levels of phthalates. In addition to phthalate exposure the research indicates that when polymer clay is overheated enough or accidentally burned, the PVC will break down and release highly toxic hydrochloric acid gas.
The potential for exposure to phthalates from normal use of polymer clays is troubling given the popularity of the clays both at home and at schools, the inadequacy of consumer warnings about the effects of these chemicals, and the effects phthalates may have on children. Moreover, since the Federal Toxic Substances Control Act does not require pre-market testing for new industrial chemicals, and because it is difficult to restrict the use of existing chemicals in commercial products, exposure to phthalates is cause for concern. VPIRG recommends that consumers avoid using polymer clays and calls on the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to recall or suspend sale of polymer clays until they are shown to be safe for use by children and pregnant women. If the products remain on the market – VPIRG calls on manufacturers to provide adequate warnings to consumers as to why they should avoid use of the products or take special precautions when using them. Finally, state Attorneys General should investigate the claims by manufacturers that the clays are “non-toxic.”
Health Risks of Phthalates
Phthalates are associated with a diversity of negative health impacts including reproductive defects, birth deformities, liver and thyroid damage, neurological impacts as well as miscarriages. At least one phthalate is listed as an EPA probable human carcinogen. The following list illustrates the health risks of some different phthalates:
DnOP (Di n Octyl Phthalate) – Birth deformities, reproductive disorders, liver and thyroid impacts, and linked to gene mutation in mixture with other compounds.
DnHP (Di n Hexyl Phthalate) – Reproductive disorders, liver and thyroid impacts, linked to gene mutation in mixture with other compounds.
BBP (Butyl Benzyl Phthalate) – Reproductive Disorders, birth deformities, suspected carcinogen, but studies inconclusive, and links to nerve disorders and miscarriages.
DEHP ((2 ethylhexyl) Phthalate) – birth deformities, reproductive disorders, EPA “probable human carcinogen”, Dept. of Health and Human Services “Potential Human Carcinogen”, liver, kidney and thyroid impacts.
DINP (Di isononyl phthalate) – Reproductive disorders and developmental harm.
DEHT (Di (2 ethylhexyl) terphthalate) – Unknown Inadequate Research and Information about Phthalates