Industry, consumers, trade blows on phthalates

Phthalates war re-ignited by EU scientific committee opinion on PVC toy softener chemicals

European industry and consumer groups have clashed bitterly over the disputed PVC softening chemicals phthalates, following the latest EU scientific report on the issue. The row includes allegations of "mis-information" traded between the European Consumers' Organisation (Beuc) and toy and plasticiser manufacturers.

In an opinion released yesterday, the EU committee on toxicity, ecotoxicity and the environment concluded that there was still "cause for concern" over phthalates used in toys. The committee found two phthalates, DINP and DEHP to present risks above the strictest safety threshold, though below levels at which actual harm has been observed in tests (ENDS Daily 30 November).

Beuc responded by calling on the EU to immediately ban "all toys" containing phthalates through emergency provisions in product safety legislation. The organisation has been in favour of prohibition since the EU scientists' earlier report in April, and now says that the case for a ban has been strengthened.

The new report marks a "watershed" in the debate on phthalates, according to Beuc. It is now clear that the use of phthalate softeners in children's toys carries a "substantial and unnecessary health risk," and that there should be "grave concern" over the issue, the organisation says.

Beuc described efforts by the European toy and plasticiser industries to defend phthalates as "obscene". Children are being "deliberately placed at risk by toy manufacturers who have executed a systematic campaign of mis-information," the consumers' group concluded.

But in a statement released today, the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates (ECPI) and Toy Industries of Europe claimed that it was Greenpeace and Beuc, rather than themselves, who were "misleading the public" on phthalates. The bodies called on environmental organisations to "stop their ill-informed and fear-mongering campaign," which they said was "scaring parents into believing their children can be harmed by sucking soft plastic toys."

According to ECPI and TiE, the new scientific opinion "does not state that plasticised toys are unsafe". They also describe as "good news" the committee's conclusion that there is a greater margin of safety than it previously thought for DINP, the main phthalate used in toys.

Moreover, the organisations say, new scientific findings, which were reviewed by the committee but not incorporated into its conclusions, would further increase the safety margin for DINP from 75 to well over 100. Under normal scientific procedures, this would take the chemical beyond the threshold at which there is cause for concern.

Follow Up:
Beuc, tel: +32 2 743 1590; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040; ECPI, tel: +32 2 676 7243.

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