Permanent EU phthalates ban moves closer

Parliamentary committee, national diplomats, continue parallel discussions on law proposal

The EU is moving closer to instituting a permanent ban on the use of phthalate softeners in PVC baby toys, it has emerged. Members of the European Parliament called this week for European Commission proposals not only to be agreed but strengthened. Governments also appear to be ready to endorse a ban, in contrast to industry claims earlier this year that they might push for leaching limits instead (ENDS Daily 9 February).

Last year, the Commission proposed permanently prohibiting the use of six phthalates in PVC toys designed to be sucked by under-threes, alongside agreement on an emergency three-month ban (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999). The proposal for a directive also envisages mandatory labelling for phthalate-containing toys aimed at under threes but not designed to be sucked.

The Parliament's environment committee moved to strengthen the controls this week. MEPs voted to extend the ban to all other phthalates - though none are currently used in toys - and called for warning labels on toys aimed at three-to-six-year-olds, whether or not designed to be sucked. They also attempted to extend the ban on phthalates in baby toys to products not intended to be sucked. An administrative mix-up stopped the amendments passing, but the plenary is likely to reinstate the demand.

Over in the Council of Ministers, meanwhile, EU governments appear close to accepting the Commission's core proposal for a ban on phthalates' use in baby toys designed to be sucked.

Nevertheless, a leaked memo obtained by ENDS Daily shows that member states are likely to oppose warning labels on baby toys not designed to be sucked. Instead, the memo says, governments have formed a "weak consensus" for setting limits on how fast phthalates can leach out of relevant products should they be sucked by children.

According to the memo, a Portuguese EU presidency proposal to set migration limits once reliable testing methods have been developed has "clear support" from the UK and the Netherlands, both of which have developed migration tests. Other member states "do not consider [the proposal] a good one, but propose no alternative," it adds.

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

Correction, 05/06/00
In this article we incorrectly implied that no EU member states were opposed to a Portuguese presidency proposal limit leaching of the chemicals rather than banning their presence in toys aimed at under-threes but not designed to be sucked. The EU Council memo on which the story was based in fact shows opposition to the plan from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden, all of which have banned such toys.

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