EU phthalates ban back on the agenda

Cause for concern remains over PVC toy softeners, says EU scientific committee

The potential for children to be harmed by phthalate softeners used in PVC toys remains a cause for concern, an EU scientific committee said on Friday. The opinion is expected to lead to renewed pressure on the European Commission to propose an emergency ban on the use of two phthalates in PVC toys.

The EU committee on toxicity, ecotoxicity and the environment gave its first opinion on phthalate migration from toys to children's saliva in April (ENDS Daily 29 April). EU consumer protection commissioner Emma Bonino then pushed unsuccessfully for the EU to institute an emergency ban on phthalates (ENDS Daily 12 June). She failed to achieve the backing of other commissioners by just one vote, Commission sources now say.

The committee's revised opinion will strengthen Ms Bonino's hand if she proposes emergency action once more, according to sources. "The review is definitely showing that this stuff is not safe," one told ENDS Daily.

Requested as an update on new evidence, the committee's opinion is not radically different from its earlier one. However, it continues to suggest that children could ingest quantities of two phthalates above the main safety threshold of one-hundredth of the "no observed adverse effects level" or NOAEL.

For DINP - the main phthalate used in PVC toys - the committee has revised its assessment to give a greater margin of safety - 75 compared with just 8.8 in its April opinion. The finding "still raises some concern" since it remains below the threshold of 100, the committee stresses.

The committee has revised its opinion the other way for another phthalate, DEHP. Following publication of a study suggesting that the substance can cause testicular cancer in mice and rats, the committee assesses the margin of safety for DEHP at 19, compared with 67 in April. Margins of safety for another four phthalates - BBP, DNOP, DIDP and DBP, were between 380 and 26,000, and therefore not a cause for concern, the committee added.

Reacting to the committee's opinion today, Greenpeace called on Emma Bonino to "urgently propose an EU-wide emergency ban on soft PVC toys for children under three". An increasing number of national governments were taking action, Greenpeace said, as well as toy manufacturers and retailers. Ms Bonino would show that she was "politically ruined" if she did not take action now.

Toy industries of Europe, however, suggested that the committee's opinion revealed "nothing new," and that there was therefore no more evidence for banning phthalates now than there had been in the spring. The association also stressed that DEHP was almost never used to soften PVC toys.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; Greenpeace, tel: +31 20 523 6222; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040. References: The committee's opinion is to be posted on the web site of the Commission's consumer protection directorate, DGXXIV.

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