EU axe finally falls on phthalates in toys

Debate continues to rage despite formal end to two-years of argument over risks to small children

EU countries today agreed to ban the use of phthalate softeners in PVC toys designed to be sucked by small children. Products containing six types of phthalates will have to be prohibited by all member states by 18 December. The decision finally ends over two years of acrimonious debate but leaves some of the protagonists still far apart over the issue.

The agreement was reached by national representatives meeting in an emergencies committee under the EU's general product safety directive, endorsing a draft decision proposed by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 10 November). Despite rumours that up three governments might seek to block the decision, it was eventually made unanimously. Eight EU countries have instituted national phthalate bans over the last two years.

The discussion was to have been held a week ago, but had to be postponed after last minute doubts emerged over the scientific basis for a ban (ENDS Daily 22 November). The Commission subsequently rejected these fears, stressing that the EU scientific committee advising on phthalates had found there was a risk, and that it took responsibility to decide on appropriate risk management measures (ENDS Daily 26 November).

Today, the Commission said that six phthalates were to be banned rather than the two that are actually used in toys to avoid manufacturers switching to different phthalates. It rejected a last minute offer by the European toy industry to withdraw phthalates voluntarily, saying that this could not achieve the same objectives as a legal ban.

The toy and phthalates industries reacted angrily to the decision, claiming that a ban was not scientifically justified. The European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI) blamed "alarmist and totally misguided stories" by Greenpeace for making parents concerned and warned that the EU decision could have "much longer-term implications".

The ban was not supported by a scientific risk assessment, said Tim Edgar of ECPI, "setting an extremely dangerous precedent, not just for the chemicals industry, but all sorts of industries". The association added that it was currently taking legal action against France following an emergency ban imposed earlier this year. The EU's "outrageous decision forces the chemical industry to seriously consider similar legal action against the Commission," it said.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, greeted the EU ban as confirmation of its campaign against phthalates, and called for it to be widened to cover all children's toys rather than just those designed to be sucked. The group said that it would continue to send "toy patrols" into retail outlets and called on parents to only buy toys labelled "PVC free".

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; ECPI, tel: +32 2 779 5955; Greenpeace EU Unit, tel: +32 2 280 1987.

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