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Greenpeace: Our Sex Toys are Toxic!

Environmental group gets all hot and bothered over phthalates in vibrators.

To prove that the devil makes work for idle hands, Greenpeace decided to test sex toys to see if they posed a toxic threat to amorous adults. Calling the result an “EU sex scandal,” Greenpeace said:

“Is nothing sacred? A new report released today by our Dutch office reveals that the plastics used to construct a wide range of sex toys contain very high concentrations of hazardous phlalates,[sic] toxic chemical softeners used in PVC to make it soft and flexible.

Greenpeace Netherlands asked research organization TNO to test eight different sex toys, including dildos and vibrators, for phthalates. Worryingly, seven out of eight contained phthalates in concentrations varying from 24 to 51 percent. Remember, these are chemicals which do not easily biodegrade and can be dangerous - even in small amounts…

…The latest research indicates that exposure to these substances can upset the body's ability to regulate hormone production, damage reproduction, and cause liver and kidney defects. They can also possibly cause cancer.”

Clearly, scientific rigor isn’t particularly “sacred” to sex toy-playing environmental activists, as the chances of ingesting a “toxic” dose of the plasticizing agent from a sex toy are next to impossible. Besides, as we have noted, the overwhelming majority – 85 to 90 percent – of human exposure to phthalates comes from meat and fish.

The rationale for Greenpeace’s warning comes from a European Union ban on one particular phthalate, DINP, in children’s toys. If it’s dangerous for infants to suck on a rubber duck, then, so Greenpeace seems to think, it must be dangerous for adults to do whatever it is they do with their "toys."

Relax. In 2003, America’s Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) rejected a petition to ban DINP in toys for children aged five and under. The reason was that there was no demonstrable risk, based on studies showing the rate that DINP migrates from vinyl toys and on the way children “mouth” toys.

For there to be a potential risk, an infant would have to suck on a plastic toy containing DINP for at least two hours. Those children who sucked the most (the 99th percentile), did so for only 12 minutes a day.

(We'll let you think about the math for adult "toys" - but remember to scale up for the increased body weight.)

Initially, the EU took a similar position: its Institute for Health and Consumer Protection produced a risk assessment report for DINP in August 2003, and concluded that:

“The end products containing DINP (clothes, building materials, toys and baby equipment) and the sources of exposure (car and public transport interiors, food and food packaging) are unlikely to pose a risk for consumers (adults, infants and newborns) following inhalation, skin contact and ingestion.

“The indirect exposure via the environment is unlikely to pose a risk to humans following the main route of exposure, the oral route… As combined exposure of adults is almost exclusively related to occupational exposure, the overall assessment indicates no concern for adults. For infants, combined exposure which is mainly related to exposure from toys and via the environment is not considered of concern.”

But since the European Union’s adoption of REACH, legislation that requires chemicals to be proven safe before they can be used in consumer products, the merest hint of risk can result in a chemical being banned. DINP has been shown to cause adverse health effects in rats at very high doses.

In the U.S. the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection has concluded that the risk of toxic effects from DINP is small or nonexistent.

Fortunately, this was probably too salacious a health scare for the American media to feel comfortable reporting; nevertheless, both the UPI and AFP wire service stories (the latter was carried by Yahoo) were embarrassing for the wrong reasons: the only source quoted was Greenpeace – and no attempt was made to check out the organization’s claims. If there’s a toxic risk here, it comes from the media.