EU ministers agree to ban chemicals in toys

The Competitiveness Council has unanimously voted in favour of a
ban on certain chemicals used in toys for young children. Industry
representatives have already stated they were considering legal

EU ministers unanimously voted on 24 September in favour of a ban
on toxic chemicals (phtalates) used as plastic softeners in
children’s toys.

The ban will be applicable to phtalates DEHP, DBP and BBP when
their concentrations are greater than 0.1% for all toys and
childcare articles, irrespective of the age group they are intended
for. The use of three more phtalates (DINP, DIDP and DNOP) will be
forbidden for toys intended for children under three years only
when concentrations are greater than 0.1% and if they can be placed
in child’s mouth.

In a statement, the ministers said they took their decision
based on the precautionary principle and could therefore review it
“in the light of new scientific data”. They were meeting in the EU
Competitiveness Council which gathers ministers responsible for
industry, research and the internal market.

The proposal to ban phtalates permanently had infuriated PVC
manufacturers who claimed that risk assessment procedures were
being ignored and the precautionary principle misused.
The European Council for Plasticisers and
Intermediates (ECPI)
told EURACTIV risk assessments are an
"integral part of the procedure" for approval and that its lawyers
were now considering taking the issue before the European Court of
Justice if the decision is confirmed by Parliament (see EURACTIV, 7 September 2004).

In a statement released before the vote,
the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC)
said "dangerous chemicals do not belong in toys," basing its
position on new scientific studies that "have identified
phthalates as endocrine (hormone) disrupters and linked the use of
phthalates to allergy, asthma and cancer". BEUC described the
permanent ban on phtalates as "essential for the protection of the
most vulnerable consumers".

Environmental groups applauded the ministers'
decision and called on the Parliament to support the Council's
position. Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Greenpeace both called on
the EU's forthcoming legislation on chemicals, 'REACH', to
"properly address both the phase-out of all hormone disrupters and
bio-accumulative chemicals and the substitution of all dangerous
chemicals with safer alternatives".

In a statement issued on 27 September,
the Commission hailed the Council political
agreement on phtalates as a "major step forward in protecting
children's health and ensuring at the same time the efficient
functioning of the single market". 

Fears that toxic chemicals were ingested by children when chewing
plastic toys prompted the Commission to order a temporary ban on
phtalates in 1999. Phtalates are used to soften the PVC plastics
certain toys are made of and are widely believed to be harmful to
human health, causing damage to the reproductive system and
increasing the risks of allergies, asthma and cancer.

The 1999 decision was based on an opinion by the Commission's Scientific
Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE). A
proposal to make the ban permanent was tabled shortly after but the
draft has been stuck in Council because EU ministers disagreed over
how far it should go. In 2003, a risk assessment report published by the
European Chemicals Bureau concluded that DINP, the main phtalate
used in toys, was safe. But in a June 2004 opinion, the CSTEE overruled the
report, saying the safety of toys was tantamount to the protection
of children's health.

Phtalates are used in a wide range of applications including
clothing, PVC building materials, medical products, cosmetics,
toys, child care articles and food packaging.

  • The Council political agreement will be formally approved at a
    subsequent meeting
  • The text will then be sent to Parliament for final

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