Although the manufacture of these dyes ceased in western Europe in the early 1970s, both they and articles dyed with them continue to be imported from countries such as China, India, Argentina, Brazil and Korea. The dyes to be banned - probably about 5% of the total range of azo dyes used - are those that can release a significant amount of aromatic amines which might enter the human body and pose a cancer risk.
The draft proposal, prepared by the Commission's industry directorate (DGIII), would ban them in products which are likely to come into more then temporary contact with the skin, such as clothing, watch straps and wigs. The proposal would be an amendment to the EU directive on the marketing and use of chemicals (76/769).
The move has received the backing of the Ecological and Toxicological Association of Dyes and Organic Pigments Manufacturers (ETAD), representing the industry. ETAD's executive director Eric Clarke said a ban would help harmonise the rules at EU level, avoiding the current situation where countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria have tighter restrictions than other member countries.
Mr Clarke also said that a ban should not be too disruptive to industry as the German regulation - in place for about four years - had already forced the market to make changes. Some suppliers from developing countries would have to find alternatives to these azo dyes for products destined for the EU market, but many countries had already made efforts to do so, he said.
Although the full extent of the proposed ban still has to be finalised, it is unlikely to affect most azo pigments, which are used, for example, in printing inks. A few partially soluble pigments included under the German ban might be on the EU list, however.
It is unclear when the Commission might be in the position to adopt the proposal. Any new initiatives were suspended in March when all 20 commissioners resigned following a critical report into some of their activities (ENDS Daily 16 March).
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