EU phthalates ban renewed a fourth time

Emergency prohibition extended while pace hots up on development of migration tests

The EU has extended until 5 March its emergency prohibition on the use of six types of phthalate softeners in PVC toys designed to be sucked by children under three. This is the fourth time the ban has been renewed since it was first agreed almost exactly one year ago (ENDS Daily 1 December 1999).

The ban is supposed to remain in place until a new directive imposing permanent controls can be agreed. However, debate between EU governments is currently deadlocked - one group wants to maintain or extend prohibition while another wants instead to introduce limits on phthalate leaching into saliva backed by agreed test methods. Under the Council of Ministers' qualified majority voting system, both groups have enough votes to block any agreement (ENDS Daily 29 September).

With further progress stalled, attention is focusing on renewed efforts to develop reliable phthalate migration test methods. Backed by the EU's scientific committee on toxicity issues (ENDS Daily 8 September), the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Italy is working flat out to find a way of validating test methods and is hoping to present results by February or March, an official told ENDS Daily.

Commission president Romano Prodi underlined the political importance that the test development method has now taken on during a visit to the JRC in November, giving it equal significance with the far higher profile issues of genetically modified organisms and BSE. He called on the scientists to develop tests for real toys as well as reference materials, according to an official, who added that plans to strengthen the protocol for validating migration tests had been abandoned in the interests of moving ahead quickly with something that was at least workable.

Despite the accent on speed, the EU's emergency phthalate ban is likely to be renewed at least twice more before being replaced with a directive. If EU scientists back the JRC's eventual proposal, which is far from certain, then the Council of Ministers will still have to reach a common position. Governments would then have to reach an accord with the European Parliament, which currently wants far more sweeping controls than proposed by the Commission (ENDS Daily 7 July).

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and text of the Commission decision; JRC, tel: +39 0332 78 92 49.

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