MEPs go for all-out ban on phthalates in toys

European Parliament votes for even stronger controls than proposed by its environment committee

The European Parliament has challenged EU governments to impose a much wider ban on phthalate softeners in PVC toys than proposed by the European Commission. The assembly said yesterday that use of all phthalates should end in all toys that children of any age could feasibly put in their mouths.

The vote means the parliament has taken a stricter stance than recommended by its environment committee, which suggested limiting prohibition to toys aimed at under-threes. This, in turn, was stricter than the European Commission's proposal, which would ban just six specified phthalates, and only in toys intended to be sucked by under-threes.

If accepted by the other EU institutions, the parliament's position would have enormous consequences for the toy industry, although which toys would classify as suckable is far from clear. Maurits Bruggink of Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) said he was "disappointed that the parliament should give this proposed directive any support."

Despite voting for a wider ban, the parliament signalled that there would be "strong grounds" for a policy rethink if reliable methods could be developed for measuring how fast phthalates escape from toys when they are sucked.

After EU scientific advisors rejected two proposed testing methods as unsuitable last year further work in this area is underway; scientists at the Commission's Joint Research Centre say a better method will be available early next year.

It remains to be seen whether this will arrive in time to significantly alter discussions on the current proposal, which now goes to consumer affairs ministers for their first reading. Talks held by EU governments so far have shown that most countries want to push ahead with a ban, albeit less wide-ranging than the one now proposed by the parliament.

Greenpeace welcomed the parliament's vote today, and said a simultaneous Commission pledge to investigate the impacts of phthalates from other sources such as PVC flooring and medical devices showed it had understood that "toys are just the tip of the iceberg."

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111; see also the verbatim report of debate on 5 July and the result of the vote on 6 July; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040, and press release. Greenpeace toxics campaign, tel: +32 2 280 1400.

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