EU Commission moves to ban phthalates

Emergency ban proposed for softened PVC teethers and dummies, to be followed by directive

The European Commission today moved to ban six phthalates used in soft PVC toys intended to be sucked by children under three years old. If approved by a committee of member state representatives, the emergency measure will prohibit the sale and import of the items in the EU from early December, but will not require withdrawal of products currently on the market. Eight countries that have already brought in stricter restrictions on soft PVC products will be allowed to maintain their controls until a permanent arrangement for phthalates is settled under a planned follow-up directive.

As anticipated, the Commission has responded to its most recent advice on phthalates by proposing restrictions on six softeners that can have "adverse effects" on kidney, liver and testicular cells: DINP, DEHP, DNOP, DIDP, BBP and DBP (ENDS Daily 26 October).

The EU's scientific committee on toxicology, ecotoxicology and the environment (SCTEE) judged that no tests were available to measure how much of the substances leached from the PVC when sucked by children (ENDS Daily 30 September). The Commission says the finding means phthalate-softened PVC toys intended to be placed in the mouth present a "serious and immediate risk" to health - a pre-condition for introducing a emergency ban.

The ban must now be approved by a qualified majority of member states at a meeting of national experts on 22 November. If passed, it will come into force 10 days later. A Commission official told journalists today that member states would not be obliged to withdraw products from the market, but expected public pressure following the Commission's action to force the removal of products from sale before the busy Christmas shopping season.

If no majority is found in the experts' committee, the proposal will be forwarded to ministers, who can adopt it by qualified majority or reject it by a simple majority of eight member states. This is unlikely as eight countries have already have stricter bans than those proposed in place. At least two of the others, however - the Netherlands and the UK - have insisted that a ban is inappropriate and that migration levels can be accurately measured. If the proposal is neither adopted or rejected by ministers, the Commission has the power to adopt the proposal within 15 days.

In a second announcement the Commission proposed a permanent ban on the six phthalate softeners, with an additional requirement for warning labels on toys which are not intended to, but can be, sucked by young children. The Commission official said those countries with stricter bans than those proposed would not face legal action until the permanent measure was approved - a process likely to take well over a year.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111.

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