Greenpeace alerts UK shoppers to the chemical content of baby toys

PVC toys sold by five UK High Street chains have been tested by Greenpeace for phthalate content. Ingestion of phthalates is known to contribute to liver, kidney and testicular damage.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften, or plasticise, vinyl products. Concern over the risk posed by phthalates has grown as studies have shown that ingestion of phthalates by children who mouth or suck on them is likely. An emergency ban has been imposed by the EU on six different phthalates used in toys intended for mouthing by small children.
Greenpeace and other environmental organisations have criticised the EU for failing to apply the ban to all PVC toys and for failing to ensure the banned products were off the shelf for this Christmas shopping season.
The UK tests applied to toys being sold by the Early Learning Centre, Mothercare, Boots, Toys ‘R’ Us and Woolworth’s. Phthalate levels in the toys tested were recorded at 24 – 42%.
The UK Government has resisted steps to limit the sale of phthalate-softened PVC toys, stating that efforts should be put into creating an effective test to measure how much phthalate migrates from toys into children’s mouths.
“Public awareness of phthalates is growing in this country,” Mark Strutt, Greenpeace UK’s toxics campaigner told edie. “The chemical industry has been good at complicating the issue, which, of course, puts people off, but people are getting the message.”
Greenpeace is seeking to communicate with the public because it believes the UK Government is failing to protect the safety of children under three. “We are critical of the Government’s position,” says Strutt. “They didn’t support an [emergency] ban. They wanted to limit activity to conducting leaching tests – tests that have been discredited.”
Strutt believes the UK Government is unwisely supporting the chemical and toy manufacturing industries. “Phthalates are an example of New Labour supporting dinosaur industries that are on their way out anyway. They should be supporting ‘sunrise’ industries instead of so-called ‘sunrise’ industries,” says Strutt. BP Chemicals in Hull produces a full range of phthalates and there are UK toy manufacturers that use phthalates in their soft PVC products.
Other EU member states have reacted to the news that current testing methods provide no way of setting safe limits on phthalate content by agreeing national phthalate bans that are stricter than the EU emergency ban. Seven EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Italy and Germany) plus Norway have passed national bans which cover all PVC toys for children under three that have been softened with phthalates.
The toys tested by Greenpeace included:

  • from the Early Learning Centre – a small yellow giraffe (part of a set of animal figures) and a lavender scented ‘touch and feel’ ball. These toys were made up of 42% and 24% of Di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) respectively.
  • from Mothercare – a small pink pig from ‘Squeezy Farm Animals’ set, found to contain 25% DINP
  • from Boots – a ‘Colour Change’ bath-time dinosaur, containing 35% DINP
  • from all shops excluding the Early Learning Centre – a baby dolphin figure called ‘Water Whistler’ made by TOMY, which showed a 29% DINP content

Greenpeace campaigner Mark Strutt said “The Early Learning Centre and other retailers have a responsibility to parents to see that these toxic toys are removed from their shelves immediately to protect children from potentially hazardous Christmas presents. If parents have bought any of these toys, they should return them to the shop and demand a refund.”<

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