On August 11, State Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit against nine suppliers and manufacturers of those inflatable vinyl bounce houses that are so popular in suburban back yards everywhere. The lawsuit was brought on not because it is a sign of our indulgent irresponsible culture of consuming electricity and petroleum products, but because investigators have found lead amounts as much as 96 times above federal guidelines.
The suit was prompted by an investigation by the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, Calif, an advocacy group that tested dozens of bounce houses. The tests found lead levels in the vinyl that varied from 5,000 parts per million to 29,000, far above the federal limit of 90 to 300 parts per million.
Scientists are increasingly convinced that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Bounce houses are made with vinyl (polyvinyl chloride, or PVC), a “poison plastic” that is often made with lead, a neurotoxin that can cause learning disorders, brain and nerve damage, hearing problems, stunted growth, and digestive problems in young children.
Lead however, isn’t the only thing to worry about. Vinyl products leak many other harmful additives during use. Studies show that these chemicals are linked to cancer and kidney damage and may interfere with the reproductive system and its development. Recent testing by several governments has also shown that children can ingest hazardous chemicals from PVC toys during use.
The production of PVC creates and releases the toxic chemical dioxin, a known human carcinogen and the most dangerous toxin known to science. The chemical process of making PVC creates hazardous waste that must be incinerated. New airborne chemical compounds are formed that resist natural degradation, build up over time in the environment, and can be distributed globally on currents of wind and water. Absolutely every person on earth is now exposed to these substances.
Plasticizers, called phthalates must be used in vinyl to make it flexible enough for our kids to bounce on. These compounds pose considerable health and environmental hazards, and can now be found in the water of the deep oceans, air in remote regions, and the tissues and fluids of the general human population. Infants and toddlers are subject to exposures several times higher than those of the average adult.
Phthalates are also released when vinyl is disposed of in landfills or incinerated, or when PVC products burn accidentally. Phthalates are not chemically bonded to the plastic but are merely mixed with the polymer during formulation. They therefore leach out of the plastic over time into air, water, or your children’s skin when vinyl comes in contact with it.
In spite of all this, Robert Field, senior vice president of Cutting Edge Creations Inc., a defendant in the California suit, called the investigation a “witch hunt”. The classic response in cases like this is that American jobs are at stake and this was no exception. “California already has many financial problems,” Mr. Field said. “Do they really wish to potentially place thousands of small-business owners that operate children’s party centers out of business?”
Apparently, that statement made sense to the CEH’s Charles Margulis, who said that rather than stopping children from using the houses, they should put warning signs on them recommending that children wipe their hands and faces afterward.
We, at the Plastic Planet have a better idea. Don’t use them at all! Think of another way for your kids to have fun. How did we all survive our childhood without bouncing around in a vinyl bounce house and still manage to have fun? Save the electricity, save the rental fees, save the space in the landfills. The manufacturers of these plastic bounce houses are telling us that we must trade our health and environment to protect our economy. Here is another choice. We can tell them that we will support their product when they make it healthy and not before. The economy will take care of itself. When companies discover healthier ways to make their products people will run to them. Eventually, a new economy will take shape.