EU plan for phthalate ban fails to please

Emergency controls on soft PVC childcare articles slammed by industry, environmentalists

Yesterday's decision by the European Commission to propose a ban on six phthalates used in soft PVC toys has disappointed both sides of the battle that has raged over the issue for two years (ENDS Daily 10 November). Industry groups say the decision may force manufacturers to use less well-researched alternatives for their products, while environmental group Greenpeace says the measure is "half-hearted" and will fail to ensure adequate protection for babies.

In a statement, the European council for plasticisers and intermediates (ECPI) said the Commission's decision to propose an immediate ban on phthalates in toys intended to be sucked by young children was "totally unjustified". "There is not a shred of evidence pointing to a risk, let alone a 'serious and immediate risk'," said director David Cadogan, referring to the Commission's justification for the ban, which must now be approved by member states at a meeting later this month.

The Commission said it was acting on advice from a scientific committee which has concluded that the six phthalates are "liable to cause serious adverse health effects." Mr Cadogan claimed, however, that the Commission had bowed to pressure from Greenpeace and aroused "extreme concern" after "putting politics before science." The industry wants the Commission instead to set maximum limits for the migration of the substances from toys during sucking.

More serious, he said, was the likely consequence that toy manufacturers would have to use other plasticisers or materials about which far less was known. A Commission official confirmed yesterday that any alternatives would have to be approved by its scientific committee as safe for use.

Greenpeace welcomed the move to ban toys containing phthalates designed to be sucked by small children, but said the decision to exclude other baby toys from the ban would "fail to ensure full protection of health." The Commission said it would ask its advisory committee whether it would be appropriate to include other soft PVC toys.

Greenpeace also described as "utterly irresponsible" the Commission's decision not to order a withdrawal of phthalate-containing products already in retailers' stocks and instead to leave such measures to the discretion of individual member states and manufacturers.

Toy industry spokesman Maurits Bruggink told ENDS Daily, however, that consumer pressure meant few of the products covered by the ban now contained phthalates and that "market forces" would remove the rest from sale without difficulty. In contrast, he said, the Commission proposal to label other phthalate-containing toys would cause the industry a "practical problem".

Follow Up:
ECPI, tel: +32 2 779 5955; Greenpeace EU unit, tel: +32 2 280 1400; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040.

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