WASHINGTON — The U.S. government is mounting a campaign on behalf of toy makers against European restrictions on phthalates in PVC toys.
Several European governments in the past year have urged toy makers not to sell PVC toys to children under 3 years old, and the European Union's product safety commissioner favors such restrictions. An EU scientific committee said in April there are reasons to be concerned about some phthalates and that more research is needed.
EU's executive branch expects to make a recommendation on restrictions soon, possibly May 20, to a council made up of member countries. That council will make the final decision.
Phthalates are used as a softener in PVC toys and medical products. Some European governments and environmentalists have raised concerns about whether the phthalates migrate from products like teething rings, interfering with the endocrine system or causing cancer.
But the U.S. government has been lobbying the Europeans since at least December, arguing that there has not been any evidence of harm, according to U.S. government documents obtained by Greenpeace.
``The sudden ban on products which have been sold for years and which is based on incomplete and perhaps erroneous information could cause trade misunderstandings between the United States and the European Union,'' A. Vernon Weaver, U.S. ambassador to the EU, wrote to EU officials Feb. 27.
A U.S. government cable to its European offices in December said they should work to lift the bans.
Denmark, Austria, Belguim and the Netherlands have raised concerns or taken action to remove PVC products from shelves.
A Commerce Department spokesman said May 13 that the department is waiting for the results of a Consumer Product Safety Commission study due out in late May. Earlier CPSC studies have not found problems with toys.
``We support a ban [when its] objective is to protect consumers, but we want there to be credible evidence,'' the spokesman said. ``There has never been a problem in the past.''
A Greenpeace statement criticized the U.S. government for ignoring evidence of harm and trying ``only to protect the interests of U.S.-based toy companies like Mattel and Hasbro.''
EU's scientific report raised concerns about one phthalate, DINP, and said the past studies report very different results because they use different test methods.
It recommended developing a standard procedure and better testing methods, and forming an international panel to look at evidence of pre-cancerous conditions in rats and what that means for people.
Mark Sofman, industry affairs manager for the Vinyl Institute in Morristown, N.J., said the report shows ``cause for concern.''
``I think we can accept that,'' he said. ``[But] it's a big leap to go from concern to alarm.''
Paul Jackson, spokesman for the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers in Brussels, Belgium, said the evidence does not justify quick action, which some EU officials have been considering. Such quick action would be the first use of EU procedures developed after the ``mad cow'' problems, he said.
``A slow process would not give industry any problems at all,'' he said. ``It's the emergency process we are worried about.''
The Toy Industries of Europe, a Brussels-based trade group, said a lack of good tests is prompting EU scientific officials to be cautious and look at the ``worst possible cases.''
EU officials could not be reached, but a Commerce Department spokesman said they expect ``pretty quick'' action from the Europeans.