Yesterday, Sweden's largest retailer, KF, announced in a letter to Ms Lindh that it was withdrawing 75 products from sale for tests, including PVC teething rings and soft books. Ms Lindh this morning warmly welcomed the move, congratulating KF on applying the precautionary approach.
KF's action follows a Danish report that that babies chewing on soft PVC products could take in large amounts of phthalates, which are added to soften the material. Various types of phthalates are suspected of disrupting animal hormone systems.
Last month, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that three out of eleven baby teething rings it had tested "leaked" excessive quantities of phthalates. Two of the brands were found capable of giving doses "far above the limit for daily consumption [of phthalates]."
The EPA recommended that the three brands of teething ring, all produced by Italian manufacturer Chicco, should be withdrawn from sale in Denmark. Chicco has since withdrawn the brands from sale in Denmark, Italy and Spain.
In the last week, the issue has hit the headlines in several countries. In Denmark, most retailers removed PVC teething rings from sale following front-page press coverage of the issue last Thursday. Last weekend, the story was widely covered in the Spanish press, and Greenpeace Spain is calling on the health ministry to test phthalate migration levels in all PVC toys.
The toy manufacturing industry is keen to play down the significance of the issue, but is clearly rattled by the gathering pace of reaction to the Danish study
"As the toy industry, we don't want to make products that are dangerous to children", said Maurits Bruggink, who is Secretary General of the EU trade association Toy Industries of Europe. "But with PVC and phthalates there is no evidence of danger." The industry would immediately withdraw any dangerous products from sale, he said "but will not automatically take everything off the shelf containing PVC or phthalates."
But Mr Bruggink revealed that toy industry associations from all over Europe are meeting in Milan on Friday, and the issue will be "at the top of the agenda".
The Danish report has added new momentum to a long-running battle against all uses of PVC being waged by Greenpeace. "It is not really acceptable just to withdraw these baby toys," Greenpeace International Toy Coordinator Lisa Finaldi told ENDS Daily. "We're going to be calling on toy manufacturers to take all PVC toys for under three-year-olds off the market."
The campaigning group is also heartened by today's tough statement from the Swedish environment minister. In her response to KF's withdrawal of PVC products, Ms Lindh gave a strong warning to industry. "The PVC industry has had a very long time to find substitutes for hazardous compounds but evidently has not managed to do so," she said. "It is the fault of the industry that PVC is no longer acceptable."
Swedish environment ministry , tel: +46 8 405 1000; KF , tel: +46 8 743 1000; Danish Environmental Protection Agency , tel: +45 32 66 01 00; Toy Industries of Europe, tel: +32 2 732 7040; Greenpeace International , tel: +31 20 523 6222.
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