EU countries push for ban on phthalates

Member states surprise Commission by shooting down plan to limit but not ban toy plasticisers

Pressure for EU-wide emergency action to ban the use of phthalate plasticisers in children's toys grew dramatically yesterday, when member state representatives blocked a plan by the European Commission's industry directorate (DGIII) to restrict but not ban a key chemical. A majority stressed instead the need for prohibition.

DGIII proposed creating a new EU directive that would set limits on the migration, or leaching, from children's toys of DINP, the main phthalate used to soften PVC articles. The migration limit would be based on a proposal made by an EU scientific committee (ENDS Daily 30 November 1998), and would be unlikely to affect many if any toys actually on the EU market. The directorate also suggested banning five other phthalate compounds in toys, but this would have even less practical implications since they are rarely if ever used.

The approach is strongly opposed by the Commission's consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino, who last year unsuccessfully called on her colleagues to institute a ban on phthalates under EU product safety law (ENDS Daily 12 June 1998). Several EU countries have since taken unilateral steps to ban the use of phthalates in children's toys, including Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and more recently Greece (ENDS Daily 21 January).

Observers were surprised yesterday when all but one of the 12 member states represented in a technical working group meeting stressed that DINP should be included in any general action taken to ban phthalates in children's toys. Several called for urgent EU action. Countries newly in favour of stronger action than that proposed by DGIII include Germany, France and Italy and Spain, according to sources, in addition to the states that have already begun taking national action.

The Netherlands also indicated that if the EU does not take action within the next few months, it too will look seriously at instituting a national ban. Only the UK, represented by its industry ministry, opposed going beyond DGIII's proposal. It argued that a new migration test method being developed by a British laboratory would help to make migration-based limits a workable approach (ENDS Daily 30 October 1998).

The size of the shift in member state opinion revealed by the meeting has greatly improved Ms Bonino's chances of getting agreement from other commissioners to propose an EU-wide ban on phthalates, with attention now switching to its scope.

In late January, Ms Bonino asked the head of the Commission, Jacques Santer, to organise a special meeting of commissioners to assess the prospects for political consensus. According to sources, DGXXIV is now pushing urgently to ensure that this meeting is held, and that when it does the Commission reverses its position of last June.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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