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Hong Kong debates limits on phthalates, consumer group finds high levels in toys

By: Steve Toloken

November 25, 2013

A consumer watchdog group in Hong Kong said it has found levels of phthalates in plastic toys up to 380 times that allowed in the United States and Europe, releasing its research as the government there considers tougher rules on the chemicals.

Hong Kong’s Consumer Council said in a Nov. 14 study that seven of 27 toys it tested from Hong Kong store shelves had phthalate levels exceeding the standards of the U.S. and the European Union, and it urged the local government to put better protections in place.

Hong Kong’s Legislature is currently considering adopting phthalate restrictions similar to those already in place in the Canada, the European Union, Singapore and the United States.

Putting tougher rules in place “will prevent us from becoming a possible dumping ground for non-compliant products rejected by those jurisdictions,” according to a report issued by Hong Kong’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.

The bureau recommended that the Legislature adopt limits for six phthalates — DEHP, DBP, BBP, DINP, DIDP and DNOP — at no more than 0.1 percent of the weight of the toys and child care products that can be mouthed or teethed by children up to 48 months old.

“The younger generation in Hong Kong will have the same level of protection from exposure to phthalates as the children in those jurisdictions,” the bureau said.

Hong Kong, a territory of China with significant self-governing powers, does not currently have any regulations limiting phthalates in toys.

The Consumer Council said in its report that in four of the 27 products it tested, phthalates made up between 28.6 percent and 37.9 percent of the product by weight, or between 286 and 379 times that allowed in the United States and Europe.

The seven products with phthalate levels exceeding the 0.1 percent standard were three bathing toys, three inflatable riding toys and an alphabet puzzle board, the council said.

"From a scientific perspective, the danger of phthalates to humans is still up for debate … but it is not too late for Hong Kong to enact stricter regulation," Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council’s publicity and community relations committee, told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper.

Council officials did not respond to a request for comment, but said that long-term exposure to phthalates can damage the liver and kidney, and it said children are at more risk because of their tendency to chew objects.

The council also said its study did not find any lead or heavy metals in the toys tested, which it said was a “big step forward” for toy safety in Hong Kong.