Toying with danger?

No Europe-wide ban on potentially dangerous chemicals used in plastic toys

Published: Friday 31 July 1998

The European Commission (EC), the Brussels-based executive arm of the European Union (EU), backed away from imposing a Europe-wide ban on phthalates, potentially dangerous chemicals used in children's toys. Environmental groups allege that the EC bowed to pressure from the chemicals industry. In the decision taken on July 1, the commission urged EU governments to carry out their own studies on the chemicals and "take measures to ensure a high level of children's health protection".

A proposal to ban, and remove from shops, objects containing phthalates that have been designed to be put in the mouth, such as teething rings, was proposed by Emma Bonino, the European commissioner in charge of consumer policy and public health. However, other commissioners feared that a ban on the sale of such objects might be successfully challenged.

Phthalates are chemical additives used to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Laboratory tests on animals have shown that some of them are toxic and carcinogenic. Industry pressure groups say the tests are irrelevant to humans.

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