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