After pressure from the European Commission and the outcome of a related court case, the Danish government has decided to scrap its planned ban on four phthalates, a group of chemicals used to soften plastic.
Phthalates can be found in everyday products such as rubber boots, oilcloths and vinyl flooring and some of them have already been banned in Europe for use in children’s toys.
Some phthalates have been accused of pushing young girls into puberty too early, causing liver cancer in rats and making men sterile.
As EURACTIV previously reported, Denmark had planned to ban the phthalates DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP, but according to the government, the Commission has assured that the ban goes against EU rules. Meanwhile, a verdict in an EU court case dealing with similar issues has led the government to believe that a national ban would have to be repealed, according to the TV broadcaster DR.
However, in the autumn of 2012, the then Environment Minister Ida Auken told EURACTIV that she was willing to risk going to court with the EU over the ban.
“Of course I don’t hope there’ll be a case, but if there will be one then I’m ready for it,” Auken said, adding that she had academic material as evidence and had been ensured she would win a potential EU court challenge.
Environment Minister Kirsten Brosbøll said in a statement that she would try to make the next health commissioner put endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the agenda.
“At the same time, I know that we now are more countries who are ready to increase the pressure on the Commission in the fight against endocrine disruptors,” she added.
The ban on the phthalates was meant to enter into force in December 2013 and later postponed until December 2015, before it was completely scrapped.
In June, the French government placed the EU’s endocrine disruptor strategy on the agenda of a meeting of environment ministers, saying the effects of some chemicals on the human body are now sufficiently documented and call for urgent action at the European level. The move was backed by the Swedish and Danish governments.
Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible or resilient.
Phthalates are nearly ubiquitous in modern society. They are found in, among other things, toys, food packaging, hoses, raincoats, wall coverings, lubricants, detergents. They are also found in cosmetics such as nail polish, hair spray and shampoo, although some have been banned in Europe for such use.
Some phthalates have been found to disrupt the endocrine system, leading to bans across Europe for use in children's toys for instance.
Several phthalate compounds - DEHP, DBP, DIBP and BBP - have been linked to reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer in rats.
>> Read our LinksDossier: Endocrine disruptors: Harmful or not?
- DR: EU triumphs over Denmark: Can't ban dangerous substances [In Danish]