Commission ends doubt over European phthalate toy ban
Chemicals used to soften plastics and linked to serious health fears are to have temporary bans replaced by more permanent restrictions.
All phthalates had been temporarily outlawed in the EU since 1999 despite concerns over the years that the ban might waver under continued legal pressure and lobbying from manufacturers (see related story).
But the clumsy process of renewing the temporary ban every three months looks set to be replaced by a permanent ban in the autumn.
Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry policy said: "This decision will put an end to several years of uncertainty during which this issue was debated at length and different national policies emerged.
"There is now a more stable legal situation which will enable industry to plan in conditions of certainty."
Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health & Consumer Protection, said: "Europe's citizens expect all products sold on the EU's internal market to be safe, but this is particularly the case for toys and childcare products.
"Toxic chemicals have no place in children's toys.
"Our action on phthalates shows that when a risk is identified, the EU can act effectively to protect the health of its children."
The three phthalates to be banned from all good designed for children are DEHP, DBP and BBP and have been identified as 'reprotoxic' - having an adverse effect on the reproductive system.
DINP, DIDP and DNOP, will only be banned from those articles children are likely to put in their mouths as there are still scientific doubts over the risk they present.
Greenpeace, one of the many pressure groups that has campaigned hard for the ban, welcomed the announcement but said it was disappointing to note that industry would not remove harmful chemicals from its products without its hand being forced.
"This ban was hard won and means that plastic toys sold in Europe will be safer," said the charity's Nadia Haiama-Neurohr.
"However, if parents want to be sure to protect their children, we advise them not to buy anything made from PVC or vinyl because laws are still not tight enough to prevent this plastic damaging our health and environment.
"We should be able to trust industry not to make dangerous chemicals and manufacturers not to use them.
"But this toxic toy story shows us that they won't clean up their acts unless we force them to.
"We can all make a difference by shopping wisely and choosing environmentally sound products, but only by demanding tougher laws can we be sure that all hazardous chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives."
By Sam Bond