Belgian line on phthalates in toys hardens

Government drafts order to extend existing ban on softeners to all PVC toys for under threes

Belgium has placed itself among the group of hardline EU countries aiming to restrict the use of phthalate softeners in all soft PVC toys for children under three years old. In draft legislation notified to the European Commission, public health minister Magda Aelvoet has proposed extending an existing ban on the softeners beyond EU emergency measures introduced last December.

The EU's emergency ban prohibited the use of six phthalates only in toys intended to be placed in the mouth of under-threes (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999). Announced by EU consumer affairs commissioner David Byrne, the measure responded to similar moves already taken by several EU member states.

Now Belgium says it wants to go further and ban phthalates also in toys not designed for the mouth. A ministerial order notified in September will be cleared to take effect from 12 December unless other EU member states object. A Belgian official told ENDS Daily today that no objections had yet been received.

Belgium's move comes against the background of EU government talks to convert the emergency ban - which must be renewed every three months - into a directive. Though ministers agree that phthalate-containing toys intended to be mouthed should be banned permanently, progress on an accord has been slow because they are split over what to do with other toys for under-threes (ENDS Daily 29 September).

Some countries - including Sweden, Denmark and now Belgium - want to ban phthalates in all these. Others, meanwhile, are content with stricter labelling requirements, while a further group, led by the UK and the Netherlands, want phthalate leaching limits introduced instead. The European Parliament has taken a much stronger line than all of them: it wants the ban extended to all phthalates in all children's toys (ENDS Daily 7 July).

Follow Up:
Belgian environment and public health ministry, tel: +32 2 210 4460, and the draft ministerial order.

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