EC publishes details for emergency phthalates ban

An emergency ban on the use of six phthalates used to soften PVC toys intended for oral use by children under 3 years could be in force by early December. Work toward a permanent ban is also underway.

The EC reaffirmed its opinion that the use of phthalate in soft PVC toys poses “a serious risk to child health”, citing research indicating liver, kidney and testicular damage. It also referred to the Scientific Committee of Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment’s (SCTEE) conclusion that no testing methods currently exist to measure accurately the migration levels of the phthalates (see related story). As a result, it is impossible, according to the EC, to set safety limits and “a ban is therefore the only practicable approach to guarantee child health.”

The UK and the Netherlands are known to disagree on this last issue, and continue to work on phthalate migration testing.

Under the EC’s proposals only soft PVC toys designed for oral use by children under three would be banned. A vote will take place on 22 November. If the emergency ban passes, it will come into force 10 days later, in early December. Member states would not be required to order the removal of toys from shops before Christmas, however the Commission expects that public pressure may result in such action.

Should the 22 November vote fail to result in a ban a second vote, this time by ministers, could take place. It is expected that a vote by ministers would result in the passing of the ban, since 8 member states have already implemented anti-phthalate restrictions that are more stringent than the proposed EU measure. They are Austria, Denmark (see related story), Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy (see related story) and Sweden.

A permanent ban on phthalates in children’s toys will require amending EU legislation on the marketing of dangerous substances.

In addition to a ban, the EC has proposed the introduction of warnings on other toys, not intended for oral use but containing phthalates, for children under three: “parents and caretakers should be advised not to allow their babies to mouth such toys for extended periods”.

The European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI) has said that the EC proposed ban is “totally unjustified” and that it risks “forcing manufacturers to use other plasticisers or materials about which far less is known”. Instead of a ban, the ECPI favours continued research on migration levels of the sort being undertaken by the Dutch and UK Governments.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace does not believe the EU proposed bans – both the emergency and the permanent ban – go far enough (see related story). The environmental organisation wants to see phthalates removed from all children’s toys, citing Dutch research showing that children mouth toys not intended for oral use for longer periods than they do the toys specifically designed for oral use.

The six phthalates at issue are: DINP, DEHP, DNOP, DIDP, BBP and DBP. The health risks associated with the first two were reassessed by the EC last year (see related story).

The phthalate issue is heating up in the US as well. The Chemical Manufacturers Association’s (CMA) Phthalate Esters Panel accused Greenpeace and Healthcare without Harm of making “misleading” statements regarding DEHP. It rejected claims by the environmental groups that medical products such as a blood bags and tubing contaminate patients’ bodies with DEHP.

The CMA pointed out that the World Health Organisation, Health Canada and the EC have concluded that DEHP should not be regulated as a “human carcinogen”.

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