EU phthalate ban decision postponed

Regulatory committee calls for further advice from scientists before making final decision

In a surprise move, a committee of EU member state representatives today postponed a decision on whether to approve a European Commission proposal to ban the use of phthalate softeners in toys designed to be sucked or chewed by children under three (ENDS Daily 10 November).

The emergency product safety committee, which has to endorse the plan before it can take effect, said "new elements" had emerged since Friday warranting a delay to allow for further discussions.

Most explosively, some members of the EU's scientific committee on toxicity, ecotoxicity and the environment (CSTEE), on the basis of whose opinions the Commission adopted its ban proposal, appear to feel that their conclusions were misrepresented. According to a Commission statement released this afternoon, "certain members of the CSTEE have expressed in a letter to the Commission disagreement on the proposal".

One of these seems to be the committee's chairman, Jim Bridges of the University of Surrey in the UK. Professor Bridges was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article the day after the Commission made its ban proposal saying: "It's a bit of a surprise to our committee to see an emergency action being taken on phthalates... I don't think the science is saying at all that there's an immediate risk". The statement is significant because EU rules require an immediate and serious risk to be shown before emergency bans can be implemented.

The second new element is an offer made by European toy manufacturers late last week to voluntarily stop placing on the market pacifiers, teethers and teething rings containing phthalates. This, Toy Industries of Europe, said would allow the EU time to consider further information from the CSTEE "which we have reasons to believe...will give more positive opinions" about phthalate leaching test methods that could be used as the basis for setting migration limits instead of instituting a ban on the use of phthalates.

European phthalate manufacturers strongly welcomed the development this afternoon as a "step in the right direction". The chairman of the CSTEE "has publicly stated that the scientific committee disagrees with the interpretation of their findings and says that an emergency ban is unjustified," the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI) said in a statement. "For the member states the only sensible decision was to wait and get further clarification from the CSTEE."

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040; ECPI, tel: +32 2 779 5955.

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