MEPs debate permanent EU phthalates ban

Prospects of early ban on toy softeners rise after broad support for Commission proposal

The European Parliament's environment committee held out the prospect of an early permanent ban on phthalates in childcare articles yesterday, as MEPs from all political groupings said the move was scientifically justified. Rapporteur Per-Arne Arvidsson told the committee that it should "move ahead quickly" on the dossier.

The ban on six types of phthalate softener in toys sucked by toddlers was proposed by the European Commission in December last year. A Commission scientific committee had expressed concern about their effects on liver and kidney tissues (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999).

An emergency ban was introduced while legislators examined the proposal and is expected to be renewed every three months pending agreement on a permanent solution (ENDS Daily 8 March). Eight member states had already restricted phthalates unilaterally before EU action was announced.

A short debate in the committee revealed a large degree of support for a ban. "The scientific evidence is sufficient to justify [it]," said Dutch liberal MEP Jules Maaten. His comments were echoed by Karl-Heinz Florenz of the German centre-right and Finnish socialist Riita Myller. German Green Hiltrud Breyer said the ban should be extended to all toys for under-threes.

Some members were more cautious, however. British socialist Philip Whitehead said there "seems to be a strong body of... evidence [in favour of a ban], but...the Commission will need to give further justification for the action it proposes." French conservative Françoise Grossetête went further, saying there were "divisions" in the scientific committee on whose opinion the Commission proposal was based.

She was referring to complaints by committee chair Jim Bridges and colleague Erik Dybing last year that its opinion had been "grossly misused" to justify the emergency ban (ENDS Daily 26 November 1999). In an apparent bid to dispel doubts over the move, MEPs were shown a recent letter from Professor Bridges to the Commission in which he said his concern "may have been over-strongly expressed."

Correction, 3/4/00
This article incorrectly reported that Finnish Socialist MEP Riitta Myller had supported a European Commission proposal for a permanent ban on phthalates in PVC baby toys designed to be sucked or chewed. In fact it was German Socialist Rosemarie Müller who spoke during the debate. Thanks to Axel Singhofen of Greenpeace's EU unit for pointing out the error.

We also reported that, Jim Bridges, chairman of the European Commission scientific committee that investigated phthalates, had written a letter to the Commission tempering previous criticisms of the emergency ban. The letter was actually addressed to the environment committee of the European Parliament.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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