Phthalate migration test method validated

Chemicals industry calls for PVC toy laws to be based on Dutch test, not phthalate bans

A test method for measuring how fast phthalate softeners are likely to leach from PVC toys into saliva when sucked by children has been validated by six laboratories, sparking renewed calls by manufacturers for any legislation on phthalates to set migration limits rather than banning the presence of phthalates.

The so-called "Dutch test method" was first developed last year by the TNO research institute (ENDS Daily 22 September 1998). It formed part of a package of work that was meant to end months of acrimonious debate over whether leaching of phthalates from toys could be damaging the health of small children.

In practice, the opposite occurred, with the European Commission's consumer affairs department continuing to push for an EU ban on phthalates in baby toys that it had unsuccessfully proposed in the spring (ENDS Daily 12 June 1998). Meanwhile, an increasing number of EU member states, tiring of lack of European action, began introducing national bans on phthalates in toys.

The EU might have agreed to introduce an emergency ban measure earlier this year, when it emerged that a majority of member states supported it over the much longer and uncertain legislative route of introducing a directive setting migration limits (ENDS Daily 2 February). However, the resignation of all 20 European Commissioners in March put paid to this, since the Commission has since been unable to launch politically sensitive new proposals.

In this context, the validation of the Dutch migration test method - showing that it can be repeated reliably in different laboratories - is a boost for phthalate manufacturers, since it provides the first practical possibility for a migration limit-based law.

This was recognised by the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI) yesterday, which noted that the European toy industry had already pledged to adopt the test method (ENDS Daily 25 September 1998).

"Hopefully, this will provide the authorities and the public with further reassurance that toys are being manufactured without any cause for concern," said David Cadogan of ECPI. "There should now be no reason for EU member states to implement any measures ahead of EU legislation." Any EU law now introduced, ECPI argues, should set migration limits for phthalates through an amendment to the so-called marketing and use directive.

However, Greenpeace argued today that the test's validation had come too late to save phthalates, as the political tide had already turned against them. National governments and the European Parliament would block any proposal from the Commission to set migration limits instead of allowing bans, he predicted. In a resolution passed at the start of last month, MEPs called on the Commission to "take action in removing phthalates from PVC toys intended for babies and young children".

Follow Up:
ECPI, tel: +32 2 779 5955; Greenpeace, tel: +32 2 280 1400.

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