Europe is set to impose a permanent ban on phthalates used to soften plastic toys and child-care products, following a vote in the European Parliament in favor of stricter regulation.
The measure, expected to apply from the fall of 2006, replaces a temporary ban on six phthalates introduced in 1999 and regularly renewed by the EU Commission since then. It will apply to products made within the EU's 25 member countries, as well as to imports.
Under the new directive, the use of three of the plasticizers - di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) - will not be permitted in any toy or child-care article. The other three plasticizers - diisononyl phthalate (DINP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP) and di-n-octyl phthalate (DNOP) - will be banned from toys and child-care products that children can put in their mouths.
EC believes children who suck or chew soft PVC items containing phthalates are at risk for kidney, liver or testicular damage. It welcomed the vote, which means the directive only needs the formal approval of EU governments this fall. The measure will replace various regulations imposed independently by EU member states.
The Parliament vote drew angry protests from the region's toy manufacturers and Europe's plasticizer industry. In separate statements, they both accused the EU of ignoring its own expert scientific advice.
The European Council for Plasticizers and Intermediates said it is ``very disappointed and concerned.'' It pointed out that only one of the six phthalates, DINP, generally is used in toys. After DINP underwent EU scientific risk assessment, member-government technical experts agreed its use in toys does not endanger children's health, ECPI recalled.
A similar finding resulted when the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated DINP, ECPI added.
``Banning a substance which has been scientifically risk-assessed as safe, thereby forcing manufacturers to use alternatives about which far less is known, does nothing to protect the health of children,'' said Brussels, Belgium-based ECPI director David Cadogan.
He pointed out that the industry firmly backs moves to protect children's health. In fact, it has spent more than 130 million euros ($155 million) researching the health and environmental effects of phthalates, he said.
Cadogan claims the EU decision is ``entirely political,'' and politicians were ``misled'' into believing children's health is in danger ``based on a lot of exaggerated and often incorrect claims'' about phthalates.
Toy Industries of Europe, the industry action group representing toy makers such as Lego and Mattel, said the vote simply encourages toy companies to move away from a chemical ``comprehensively risk-assessed by an EU agency'' and found to be safe.
``There is now an uncertainty in the toy industry as to how to move forward. What criteria can we use to determine that substitute chemicals will not be challenged on health and environmental grounds in the future?'' the group asked.
But the EU decision was greeted with delight by Greenpeace, which took credit for first revealing children were exposed to the effects of phthalates in 1997 after it tested a range of PVC toys and child-care items.
``This ban was was hard-won and means that plastic toys sold in Europe will be safer,'' said Nadia Haiama-Neurohr, chemical policy adviser at Greenpeace's European unit.