Austria's move follows a recommendation issued by the European Commission less than two weeks ago, calling on EU member states to take regulatory action on children's PVC toys containing phthalates if they could demonstrate a health risk (ENDS Daily 1 July). It is the first EU country to put in place a ban.
The development removes an uncertainty generated by the Commission decision, which left environmental groups claiming it would open the way to widespread national bans while the PVC and toy industries hoped it would forestall them.
Harmonised EU rules to address potential health risks from phthalates are to be drawn up, probably this autumn, when a Dutch-coordinated study of phthalate migration from toys into human saliva is to be completed. Until then, commissioners decided this month, there was not a firm enough scientific basis on which to decide EU emergency action.
Greenpeace, which is campaigning both on the phthalates issue and against PVC use more broadly, has welcomed Austria's move. "This should send a signal to other member states to act on the Commission's recommendation," the group said. However, it went on, the ban "still leaves the gates open for PVC producers to replace phthalates with other hazardous additives. PVC is a poisonous plastic - replacing phthalates won't solve that problem."
Austria's ban conforms with a key requirement laid down by the Commission that any restriction should be supported by a scientific assessment of phthalate migration levels. Austrian scientists have shown that there is a risk, according to the consumer affairs ministry.
However, the ban will cover not only toys designed to be placed in the mouths of children under three years, but also toys "feasible to be" chewed or sucked, according to the ministry. In this respect it will be broader than the Commission's recommendation, which concerned only toys "intended" to be placed in babies' mouths, such as teething rings.
Two other EU countries - Denmark and Sweden - are also on the way to similar bans. Sweden says it will ban chemical softeners in toys for the under-threes if industry does not phase them out on a voluntary basis. An official in the Danish government said that environment minister Svend Auken would take a decision next month on exactly which category of phthalate-containing toys - whether those specifically designed to be chewed or a wider range - should be banned.
Austrian consumer affairs ministry, tel: +43 1 53115.
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