Toxic Softeners in Plastic Toys to Be Banned in Europe

BRUSSELS, Belgium, September 28, 2004 (ENS) - Trade ministers from across the European Union have agreed on a law to phase out six toxic chemicals used to soften vinyl plastic in children's toys - seven years after researchers found evidence of a link between the chemicals and both liver damage and reproductive failure.

The chemicals are known as phthalates - pronounced thalates.

The unanimous decision of the Competitiveness Council Monday recommends a ban of three phthalates - DEHP, DBP and BBP - that the EU has identified as capable of causing reproductive damage from all products intended for children regardless of age.


Plastic toys softened with phthalates will soon be restricted in the European Union. (Photo credit unknown)
The three other phthalates, which are toxic to the liver - DINP, DIDP and DNOP - will only be prohibited in toys and childcare articles for children under three years old and which are intended to be sucked on or chewed.

Green Euro-MPs and environmental groups welcomed the decision, which they described as "better late than never."

Caroline Lucas, MEP for South-East England and a member of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, said, "The competitiveness council has made the right decision, eventually, and protecting the health of babies and children will, at last, be prioritized over the interests of the chemicals industry."

"We applaud the ministers for finally acting to protect children from exposure to phthalates with their decision to phase out these hazardous chemicals from toys sold in Europe," said Nadia Haiama-Neurohr of Greenpeace, which has campaigned for years against the chemicals in toys.

An emergency temporary ban on pthalates adopted in 1999 covered the same six pthalates, but only banned their use in toys intended for children's mouths. Total pthalate production is approximately one million tonnes a year - almost half in the form of DEHP, which is officially classified as toxic to reproduction.

Used as softeners in plastic toys made of polyvinyl chloride, phthalates are known to leach from products that contain them.


Babies will be protected from phthalates that may leach from soft plastics when sucked or chewed. (Photo credit unknown)
Greenpeace cites new research that links a child's risk of developing asthma and allergies to phthlate exposure. The delay in banning them has occurred because of arguments over "acceptable levels" that can be ingested by children, said Haiama-Neurohr.

"It has taken seven years to overcome the lobbying power of the multinational chemicals industry," said Lucas, "and phthalates are just the tip of the iceberg."

The Competitiveness Council reached a political agreement on a draft law restricting the use of the six phthalates. After finalization of the text, the Council will adopt formally its common position at one of its forthcoming meetings and will then send the law to the European Parliament for second reading.

The measures proposed are based on the precautionary principle and so they will be subject to review in the light of new scientific data, the Council said.

The European Commission, in co-operation with the agencies of member states that are responsible for market surveillance and enforcement for toys and childcare articles, and in consultation with producers and importers, will be responsible for monitoring the use of phthalates as plasticizers in toys and childcare articles.

"The challenge now," said Lucas, "is to build on this prohibition to end the use of all phthalates, and harmful chemicals, for which safer alternatives exist. That's the ultimate aim of the long-overdue so-called REACH proposals currently before the commission which will, I hope, give the EU the world's most ethical chemicals policy."

Haiama-Neurohr of Greenpeace agrees. "Today's move supports the principle that it is both possible and desirable to substitute dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives," she said Monday. "This needs to be reflected in the proposed EU chemicals legislation, REACH. Such substitution must in future happen quickly and as a matter of course whenever a chemical is identified as of very high concern."


Plastic pacifiers will not be permitted in Europe if they contain any of six phthalates. (Photo credit CPSC)
Dubbed REACH, for Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals, the proposal is a far-reaching method of limiting the exposure of Europeans to the most toxic chemicals.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal government agency responsible for human exposure to toxics, says that levels of human exposure to phthalates are far below minimum safety levels set by regulatory agencies for these well studied chemicals.

"Research has shown that they do not persist in the environment," the CDC states on its website. "Once inside us, they break down quickly and are excreted. Perhaps most important, in their long history of beneficial services to consumers, no reliable evidence has ever shown that phthalates have ever caused any harm to anyone."

The six banned chemicals are: