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  EU bans hazardous chemicals used in toys

      By Stephen Castle in Brussels

25 September 2004

Seven years after campaigners first went into battle against hazardous 
chemicals being used in baby toys, ministers agreed yesterday on a 
permanent ban despite fierce lobbying from industry.

The measures are designed to combat the risk to youngsters posed by 
phthalates, which have been linked with reproductive abnormalities, such 
as low sperm counts in boys and premature breast development in girls. 
Phthalates are used as softeners in some PVCs and, with industry 
reluctant to declare which products contain them, consumers have been 
left in the dark over the danger.

Alarmed about the potential threat to children's health, the European 
Union put in place a limited emergency ban in December 1999. At that 
point the industry said that about 70 per cent of toys on the market 
were already phthalate-free.

But worries remain about the use of the hazardous chemicals, 
particularly in less well-known brands, in inflatable toys including 
swimming aids and paddling polls, and on clothing. A Greenpeace study 
found last year that phthalates were contained in the printed sections 
of the fabrics on a range of Disney children's clothes. A Dutch Donald 
Duck T-shirt print had 170,036mg/kg of phthalates - more than 17 per 
cent by weight of the sample.

Toy-makers argue that children would have to suck on the toys for seven 
hours to be at risk. But campaigners point to studies suggesting that a 
potential danger exists if an item is in a child's mouth for only an hour.

Members of Toy Industries of Europe, a group representing companies 
including Mattel Inc and Hasbro Inc, the world's top two toy-makers, say 
that only one phthalate, DINP, is used in their products. This is 
regarded as a less harmful substance than others though some studies 
link it to liver damage.

Yesterday's decision by EU ministers will widen the emergency ban from 
1999 and make it permanent. The agreement came after the UK and the 
Netherlands - which holds the presidency of the EU - withdrew their 
opposition. The two governments had been the most sympathetic to 
lobbying by the industry which demanded further tests on products.

The new measures, which need approval by MEPs, will mean a ban on three 
phthalates (called DEHP, DBP and BBP), identified as capable of causing 
reproductive damage, from all products intended for children. These 
chemicals are currently banned under the emergency measures in toys for 
the under-threes intended to be sucked or chewed, such as teething rings.

Three others (DINP, DIDP and DNOP) will be prohibited in toys and 
childcare articles for children under three and which can be sucked on 
or chewed. Clothing will not be covered.

The industry signalled yesterday that its long fight against controls is 
not over. Heidi Ranscombe, of Toy Industries of Europe, said: "We want 
the wording to be tightened so toys for children under three that aren't 
intended for the mouth aren't covered." The industry argues that the ban 
would cover objects like the plastic legs of wendy houses which are 
unlikely to be sucked by children.

Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP for Wales, said: "It is absurd that it has 
taken seven years to get here and will take another two for this to pass 
into law. It says something about the incredible lobbying power of the 
chemical industry."
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