Nappy manufacturers plan standardised TBT testing

Companies meet with laboratories to agree testing protocol, as NGOs focus on raw materials

Manufacturers of disposable nappies (diapers) have begun talks with several European laboratories in an effort to agree a standardised test for the organotin tributyltin (TBT). The first meeting between industry representatives and laboratories took place after Greenpeace announced in May that tests it had commissioned showed the presence of the toxic and endocrine-disrupting chemical in several brands of nappies sold in Germany (ENDS Daily 19 May).

The head of the UK trade association for absorbent hygiene products, Peter Stephenson, told ENDS Daily that the process of agreeing a Europe-wide testing protocol is proceeding at an "aggressive" pace and that a standardised procedure should be agreed "within five to six weeks".

However, Greenpeace says that manufacturers should spend less time on testing methods, which the NGO believes have not been controversial, and more on scrutinising their products' raw materials. "They should focus on checking their ingredients to ensure that they're free from TBT," said Axel Singhofen of Greenpeace Europe.

In May, when Greenpeace-commissioned tests showed traces of TBT in nappies, it was unclear how the chemical got there. Mr Stephenson claimed today that there is still "confusion" about how TBT can end up in nappies, but others are less uncertain. Proctor & Gamble, makers of the Pampers nappy brand, wrote to the Danish environmental protection agency in July specifying that TBT is found in some of the plastics which are created by using another organotin as a catalyst. The letter stated that "the traces which occur... are exclusively related to the use of DBT [dibutyltin] as a catalyst in polymerisation" and that "traces of catalyst are unintentional and can be minimised by careful process control". It is thought that TBT can be found in plastics which are formed with DBT as a catalyst because the catalyst is often contaminated with TBT from the outset.

Proctor & Gamble also specified the types of materials in nappies which can contain TBT. These are the "nonwoven topsheet", which has contact with the skin, as well as elastics and glues.

* In a related development, the Women's Environmental Network (WEN), a UK NGO, has announced that traces of TBT have been found in nappies it purchased in July. The tests prove, according to WEN, that manufacturers are not addressing the presence of TBT in nappies in a Europe-wide manner, but are simply responding on an ad-hoc basis when public awareness is raised in individual countries.

Follow Up:
UK absorbent hygiene products manufacturers association, tel: 01483 418 221; Edana European trade association representing nappy manufacturers, tel: +32 2 734 9310; WEN, tel: + 44 207 481 9004.

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