EU to ban six toxic chemicals in household plastics


The European Union will ban six toxic chemicals within three to five years, three of which are commonly used in plastic household items, the European Commission said on Thursday (17 February).

Among the compounds are three plastic softening phthalates, a musk fragrance, a flame retardant and a hardener for epoxy resin, the Commission said.

Although the most toxic phthalates have been banned in children's toys since 1999, a survey last October showed some are commonly found in products on supermarket shelves, including items regularly used by children, such as pencil cases and erasers.

The decision is being taken under the REACH regulation on chemicals, adopted in 2006 in what has been billed as the most epic lobbying battle in the EU's history.

"Chemicals are everywhere in the modern world and some of them can be very dangerous," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said. "Today's decision is an important step towards better protecting our health and the environment."

Unless they obtain specific exemptions, companies will not be able to sell items containing phthalates known as DEHP, BBP and DBP, the fragrance Musk Xylene, flame-retardant HBCDD, or the epoxy resin-hardener MDA.

Any company wishing to use the chemicals will need to demonstrate they are controlling safety issues, or that the benefits for the economy and society outweigh the risks.

The decision is a victory for campaigners who raised their concerns about hundreds of compounds in the report released last October.

"We are pleased this has finally happened, but the pace is far too slow," said Christian Schaible of the European Environmental Bureau, which published the October report.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

After years of heated debate, EU lawmakers agreed in 2006 on a far-reaching proposal to review the way chemicals are approved in Europe.

The EU regulation on 'Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals' (REACH), aims to make chemicals safer for human health and the environment by placing the burden on businesses to prove their products are safe before they can be placed on the market.

In January last year, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) identified 29 substances that present the greatest cause for concern regarding public health and the environment. These need to go through special scrutiny before they are authorised.

A roadmap agreed by the EU executive and ECHA is expected to increase the number of chemicals on the list to 135 by 2012.

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