The European Commission has made its member countries responsible for monitoring phthalates in vinyl toys while it works to develop legislation that could regulate phthalate levels.
At a July 1 meeting in Brussels, Belgium, EC recommended that member countries check phthalate migration levels in products such as vinyl teething rings. If levels exceed limits proposed by an EC scientific body, then EC is urging countries to act to ensure child safety. Individual countries must notify EC of any planned action.
Phthalate risk evaluation methods are being developed in Holland and should be available by late August, according to an aide to Emma Bonino, EC consumer affairs commissioner.
EC will introduce legislation when its members agree on standard test methods to determine how much phthalate can leach out of products that children can chew or suck on. Test methods in Holland involve humans chewing products and spitting, to see how much phthalate leached out. Researchers will correlate human-based results to laboratory tests.
European toy, chemical and vinyl associations said in a joint news release they welcomed the EC decision. Toys Industries of Europe, the European Council for Plasticisers and Intermediates, and the European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers said there is no evidence phthalates harm children but standards are needed to restore public confidence.
However, Toys Industries of Europe stated in a separate news release that it disagreed with the EC compromise. The recommendations will cause confusion in the marketplace and won't allay fears stirred up by Greenpeace. A Toy Manufacturers of America Inc. spokeswoman said her association agrees with TIE's position.
Bonino's aide said risk does exist but Bonino's proposed temporary ban was derailed last month because the absence of standard risk analysis would put any ban on shaky legal grounds. EC's Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment recommends maximum extractable phthalate levels for a sample surface of 10 square centimeters over six hours for a child weighing 17.6 pounds. They are: DINP, 1.2 mg; DNOP, 3 mg; DEHP, 0.4 mg; DIDP, 2 mg; BBP, 6.8 mg; and DBP, 0.8 mg.
The confusion has caused some firms voluntarily to take products off the market temporarily, said Paul Jackson, spokesman for ECVM. The council wants standard tests because each country could get different results testing the same product. Tests in Denmark that showed high migration have not been duplicated elsewhere, he cited as an example. EC's recent recommendation ``is a good compromise,'' he said.
The Vinyl Institute is confident Dutch-developed tests will exonerate vinyl toys, said Bob Burnett, executive director of the Morristown, N.J.-based group.
``Vinyl toys have been used for more than 40 years without harm and they will remain available,'' he said.
Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind said he was glad to see EC recognize phthalates as a serious hazard, but he disagreed with the decision to pass responsibility back to individual countries until standard methods are in place. Safe alternatives to plasticized vinyl exist and they should be used in toys, he noted.
``That's the result of scandalous lobbying by the U.S. government on behalf of big companies,'' Hind said.
Greenpeace blockaded an Exxon Corp. plant in Rotterdam on June 30 to protest the plant's phthalates production. It ended the blockade when the EC meeting began July 1, said Hind. Exxon got a court order to fine Greenpeace 100,000 Dutch guilders per day (about $48,800) if it continued the blockade.
``We will continue to pressure where it is needed,'' Hind said.
Imports represent 90 percent of Europe's market for soft vinyl child products, estimated ECVM's Jackson, but EC is not focusing on the products' origins.