Out shopping for toys for those special kiddies in your life who have been nice (and even naughty)? Be careful: some of those would-be stocking stuffers may be toxic. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Public Citizen yesterday sued the feds to force them to order stores to remove tot's toys and child care products that contain toxic plastics called phthalates from their shelves pronto.

The watchdog groups charge in the complaint filed in Manhattan Federal Court that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is flouting "the will of Congress'' by allowing retailers to stockpile and continue to sell products from dolls to rubber ducks containing the chemicals after Feb. 10—the date a federally mandated ban on their production and sale is set to take effect—as long as they were manufactured before the deadline.

"Overwhelming evidence led Congress to ban these toys, a ban that some retailers have already started to adopt. The CPSC decision completely undermines those efforts by allowing banned toys to sit on the same shelves as the safe ones," NRDC scientist Sarah Janssen said in a statement. "Parents want to know that the toys they're purchasing are safe. It's not too much to ask."
Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics in toys and many other common consumer products, including some teething rings. Exposure to them has been linked to decreased production of sperm and the male hormone testosterone as well as to malformed genitals in newborn boys.

Pres. Bush signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act into law in August. The measure, which sailed through the House and Senate, bars the sale and production of toys and childcare products containing certain phthalates and lead (which causes brain damage) after Feb. 10. The same phthalates were outlawed in European toys nearly a decade ago and other countries, including Argentina, Japan, Israel and Mexico, have since followed suit, according to NRDC and Public Citizen. Several major retailers announced they would stop selling toys containing the chemicals by the end of this year.

The suit was filed just days after the CSPC reportedly agreed to a request from lawyers for unidentified biz clients to ban production but not the sale of toys with phthalates after Feb. 10. By interpreting the law that way, the consumer watchdogs complain, the commission is allowing manufacturers to churn out toxic toys right up until the deadline – and then sell them to unwitting consumers as long as supplies last.

"It is horrifying that the federal agency charged with protecting consumers," said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, "is telling the industry it can dump chemical waste on toy-store shelves. It's not only immoral—it's illegal."

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