Danish ban on phthalates to take effect

Prohibition plan survives German objections, Swedish ban to follow this summer

Denmark will become the second EU country after Austria to outlaw the use of phthalate softeners in PVC children's toys when a new law comes into force on 1 April, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced.

The government notified the EU and other member states last summer of its intention to ban phthalates (ENDS Daily 6 August 1998). Though the ban was planned to enter into force in November, this timetable was delayed when Germany submitted objections during the three-month "standstill" period required under EU law. Denmark now appears to have won the Commission's backing for its position that the ban will affect companies from all countries equally and therefore will not be a barrier to trade.

The Danish legislation has a broad scope, according to the EPA. It will prohibit use of phthalates not only in toys and childcare articles specially designed for children under three, but also in any items whose construction, design or decoration might encourage children of this age to use them as toys. An exemption has been made for inflatable bathing articles for outdoors use or for public swimming pools, where the agency says safety considerations override those of health and the environment.

Retailers will be a given a further year to sell existing stocks of items containing phthalates, the EPA says. It will also keep a "watching brief" on relevant research to decide if the ban needs to be extended to items used by older children. The main risk associated with phthalates is that they may migrate, or leach, from PVC articles when sucked, causing possible liver and kidney damage.

Two alternative proposals for EU-wide controls on the use of phthalates are now circulating within the Commission, but sources say that a key meeting designed to decide on a way forward has been cancelled and not rescheduled (ENDS Daily 2 February).

This leaves the initiative, for the time being, with individual member states. After Denmark, Sweden's proposal is furthest advanced. The government first announced its intention to ban phthalates last September and, having answered German and British objections, an environment ministry spokesperson said today that the measure should take effect by 1 July.

Finland, Greece and Italy have also announced plans to introduce national restrictions on phthalates, as well as non-EU member Norway. According to sources in the European Commission, no objections have so far been received from other member states, with Germany apparently altering its stance after last autumn's change of government.

Follow Up:
Danish EPA, tel: +45 32 66 01 00; Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000.

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