Dutch study fails to halt phthalate wars

All factions claim support from new assessment of risk to babies from soft PVC toys

A long-awaited scientific assessment of potential risks to babies from phthalate softeners contained in soft PVC toys has utterly failed to dispel Europe's simmering political row over phthalates, with all sides claiming support from the study.

Released today by the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the study was intended to fill key gaps in scientific knowledge that have left the phthalates issue a political minefield. In particular, the "consensus group" that collaborated on the project aimed to estimate real migration rates of phthalates to saliva and to develop a reproducible migration test method for future use. An accompanying article describes the report in more detail.

At one end of the spectrum, industry groups representing Europe's toy, PVC and phthalate industries have greeted the results as providing "further confirmation that phthalate plasticisers can be used safely in...soft toys".

In a joint statement, three industry groups claimed that the report "directly addresses" concerns expressed by an EU scientific committee in April (ENDS Daily 29 April). "This new evidence clearly vindicates" the position that "phthalates can be safely used [in soft toys] within specified migration limits," the groups said..

Toy Industries of Europe went on to announce "immediate steps to ensure" that toys intended to be "mouthed" by children under three "will be manufactured to conform to phthalate migration levels determined" by the Dutch consensus group. Industry sources suggested that toy manufacturers worldwide would take on the same commitment, though ENDS Daily could not confirm this claim.

Greenpeace, meanwhile, said today that the study had "failed in its mission" and reiterated its call for all soft PVC toys to be banned. The study "cannot be used to predict the rates of leaching from toys due to different testing results," and fails to take into account sources of phthalate exposure other than DINP in toys, the group said.

Crystallising a fundamental disagreement with industry groups on the issue, Greenpeace concluded that "the attempt to find a standard test [is] unacceptable since [it] starts from the assumption that some level of exposure is acceptable even though it is easily avoidable". The group also questioned the consensus group's impartiality, saying it was "dominated by representatives from the chemicals and toys industry".

Two other interested parties responded to the report today: the Dutch health ministry. which commissioned the study, and the Dutch consumers' association, which participated in it.

According to English translations of the statements made by Greenpeace Netherlands, the health ministry has called on industry to "consider measures to control two phthalates...used in soft toys". More research is still required on phthalate migration into babies' saliva, the ministry said. Meanwhile, the Dutch consumers association said that the study had "increased doubts about the safety of these products". Particularly for children under the age of one the "safety margin is too narrow," the group said. Soft PVC toys should be banned, it concluded.

Follow Up:
RIVM, tel: +31 30 274 9111; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040; Greenpeace, tel: +31 20 523 6222.

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