WASHINGTON — The European Union appears to have backed away from a controversial ban on phthalates in PVC toys, but other restrictions seem likely.
Emma Bonino, EU consumer affairs commissioner, has been pushing for a ban, but could not find enough support at a June 10 meeting with commissioners representing other EU departments, according to a Bonino aide.
``A total ban as we proposed is over,'' the aide said.
But the issue is not settled. Bonino is drafting legislation to restrict such chemicals in toys for children under 3 years old, the aide said. The new proposal is to be considered June 17, but the issue has been delayed several times in recent months.
The U.S. government expects the EU to push for fast development of migration standards, rather than a ban, because commissioners are very divided on a ban, said Charles Ludolph, deputy assistant secretary for Europe in the U.S. Commerce Department.
A June 11 Commerce Department cable describing the meeting of top EU administrators, known as the college of commissioners, said it is difficult to predict what will happen. But it said the toy industry is willing to adopt migration standards, and 10 of 15 commissioners voted in favor of a ban and recall, one vote shy of the 11 needed to pass the legislation.
Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind said the delay means a U.S. government lobbying effort against the proposal and on behalf of U.S. toy manufacturers is working.
Paul Jackson, spokesman for the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers, said it is not clear what restrictions the EU is debating, but said the controversy is doing some damage to vinyl in the marketplace. The commission has been talking about action ranging from product recalls to a consumer education campaign, he said.
Any recommendation from the commissioners must be approved by a council of EU member states.
Several European governments have urged toy makers not to sell PVC toys to children under age 3, and they and some environmentalists have raised concerns about whether phthalates migrate from products and cause cancer or disrupt the endocrine system. An EU report in April raised questions about one phthalate, DINP.
But toy industry officials contend that studies show phthalates used in making toys are safe.
``We have been victims of a high-profile campaign by Greenpeace, whose own scientific evidence purporting to demonstrate risk has been discredited, and which has been carrying out a two-year campaign of misinformation,'' the trade group Toy Industries of Europe said in a statement.
While U.S. trade officials wrote the EU on Feb. 27 to say ``extensive testing in the United States has not revealed a health risk from phthalates,'' Greenpeace said a March 10 draft study from another U.S. agency contradicts that.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission study said that while DINP is not a carcinogen or a developmental or reproductive toxin, it is toxic to the liver and kidney. CPSC's study cited reports by the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands that ``suggest that the exposure from certain products may exceed the [acceptable daily intake.]''
``Data on the release of DINP from children's products available in the U.S. are needed to determine whether they may present a hazard to infants and children,'' CPSC said.
The study was released by Greenpeace, as part of a Freedom of Information Act request the group made. CPSC officials declined comment, but Ludolph said the February letter says no problems had been found to date.
``We're waiting for the results of scientific studies,'' he said.
A scientist who heads a Chemical Manufacturers Association-affiliated panel said effects seen in rodents in such studies generally are not applicable to people. David Kay, chairman of a CMA toxicology task group, said there are several studies under way around the world on DINP.
The EU action could address both DINP and the phthlate DEHP. DEHP was withdrawn by toy manufacturers in 1986 after some studies found tumors in rodents, but later studies disputed a relationship in humans and other animals, the toy industry said.