You know it's a slow news day at the Capitol when a tableful of rubber ducks draws a dozen reporters.
OK, so the press conference was really meant to promote Assembly Bill 1108 — legislation now sitting on the governor's desk that would ban the use of phthalates in toys. Manufacturers add phthalates to plastics to make them softer — or in the case of Ernie's bathtime playmate, squeezable. Environmental groups say phthalates have been linked to all sorts of nasty ills in animal studies, including "testicular injury" and liver cancer.
This is important legal stuff we're talking about. For one thing, it relates to pending litigation. The city of San Francisco imposed a similar ban on some phthalates in 2006 and was immediately sued by toy manufacturers. It also touches on federal preemption issues since the toymakers claim SF — and subsequently, the state — has no right to enforce such a ban because federal regulators have already said the primary phthalate found in children's gizmos is safe. And it raises Prop. 65 questions since the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment determined in 2005 that four types of phthalates (.pdf) meet the criteria for listing as toxic.
But do you really think that's what got reporters' attention? Or could it have been the free yellow "phthalate-free" duckies placed at each reporter's desk? Legal Pad witnessed grown men scooping up the rubber fowl by the handfuls and shoving them in coat pockets. As one reporter generally said, "Given what our paper's travel budget is these days, this qualifies as swag."
But the Capitol press corps may want to handle the phthalate-free fowl with caution. The ducks are stamped on the bottom "Made in China." No one said anything about the lead content …
— Cheryl Miller