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WECF publishes article in Chemical Watch

NGO platform: EU toys rules too weak

17.03.2014 | Alexandra Caterbow WECF in Chemical Watch

The new chemical requirements of the EU toy safety Directive have been in force since July 2013. The EU had a chance to really protect children from hazardous chemicals, when the Directive was reviewed in 2009, but unfortunately they only went half way.

Toys are part of children’s daily life. They should therefore be safe and not expose them to harmful chemicals. Because children have developing organs, rapid metabolisms, thinner skin and immature immune systems, as well as specific behaviours, they are more vulnerable than adults to chemicals of concern. The scientific community today endorses the fact that early exposure can play a significant role in developing certain diseases later in life. So banning harmful substances from toys is necessary to protect children from possible long-term and irreversible health effects. This means that in the production of quite a number of currently traded toys, the chemical substances used need to be substituted by safer ones or non-chemical alternatives. Is this necessary change process too much to ask for?

The revised Directive’s chemical requirements are a slight improvement from the previous version when it comes to the use of carcinogenic, mutagenic and reprotoxic substances (CMRs). But unfortunately, the new Directive does not ban them from toys. A derogation for a CMR, even those classified as category 1, can be granted if no substitute exists for this substance; if a European Commission scientific committee sees no dangerous implications; and if it is not prohibited for use in consumer articles under REACH. Alternatively, a CMR may be used in toys if it is inaccessible to children; or if it is present in a concentration no greater than the relevant concentrations set out in the CLP Regulation and dangerous preparations Directive. This means that, in reality, many toys can still contain some CMR substances.

Furthermore, only the concentration limits of substances are considered, excluding the migration of substances when toys are placed in the mouth or swallowed. For instance, a carcinogen like benzo[α]pyrene, a genotoxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) with a high-rate skin penetration, is authorised within a limit of 100mg/kg – a limit which does not take into account children’s vulnerability. Indeed, the new toy safety Directive lags behind technical feasibility and existing EU rules on CMRs in other sectoral regulations, such as those covering food contact materials. In 2010, Germany asked the Commission to strengthen the regulation of PAHs in toys by introducing a maximum limit of 0.2mg/kg.

The new toy safety Directive is still too weak and needs to be strengthened by banning all CMRs from use in toys. Children should not be exposed to such substances when playing with toys.

Heavy metals
Eleven metals are covered by the Directive for the first time, but in some cases its approach is worse than the previous version that applied until 2009. For example, a neurotoxic element like lead is permitted in toys in a concentration of up to 160mg/kg, compared to 90mg before. This is, of course, irresponsible. Maximum limits for antimony, arsenic, barium and mercury also appear to be higher than before. Germany has filed a lawsuit to apply stricter limit values to certain elements for which proposed limit values are not considered protective enough for children’s health (CW 22 May 2013). The final decision by the European Court of Justice is expected this year. But the fact that only a few EU member states are taking action is not good enough. Here also the Directive should be strengthened to protect all children in the EU.

Fragrances and allergens
In total, 55 allergens are banned under the Directive, and 11 others are only allowed within certain concentration limits and must be labelled. But there are many more allergens. The European Parliament, in 2007, called for a total ban of fragrances in toys, and several eco-label schemes, such as the Nordic White Swan, do not allow fragrances in toys carrying the label. Avoiding fragrances is essential for children’s health, as they are the second biggest risk factor for allergies after nickel. An assessment by Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Evaluation (BfR) called for a ban on fragrances in toys for children under three, after an assessment it conducted in 2010 estimated that 10% of European children were sensitive to nickel and 2% to fragrances.

EDCs, PBTs and vPvBs
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interact with the hormonal system and are linked to diseases including various cancers, diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and developmental disorders. PBTs (substances which are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic) and vPvBs (those defined as very persistent and very bioccumulative) have long been known to pose serious health risks, especially to children. For each of these groups of hazardous chemicals, there is abundant research to show their potentially harmful impacts on health, but they are barely considered by the toy safety Directive. In addition, nanomaterials are not regulated at all in toys, even though another EU law, the cosmetics Regulation, requires some nanomaterials to be labelled because their potential health risks are under investigation. All of these substances can trigger long-term health consequences for children – some of them at very low doses – and so they should all be banned from toys.

Parent pressure

Parents are more and more concerned: our offices are flooded with information requests from worried mothers and fathers who are outraged because they have no means of knowing which harmful substances are in toys, and that policy makers and industry are not doing enough to protect their children’s health. They demand full disclosure of ingredients (as with cosmetics) and stricter laws that apply the precautionary principle, with zero tolerance for harmful chemicals.

In France, a WECF online petition on calling for the phase-out of EDC-suspect bisphenol A from toys received 30,000 signatures – a level of support that placed it among the top 50 petitions in France that year. But the Commission continues to disregard this public outcry of parents. A new Commission Directive, adopted by the toy safety Directive committee on 18 February,  will allow bisphenol A to be present in toys for children under 36 months and in toys to be put in the mouth provided it meets a migration limit of 0.1mg/l (CW 25 February 2014), even though the detection limit is 0.001mg/l. This is irresponsible when a growing number of scientific studies show that EDCs affect health and human development even at very low doses, especially in children. Parents do not understand the inconsistency in the Commission’s policy as it bans an endocrine disrupting chemical like bisphenol A in baby bottles – but still allows it in toys. They tell us that most children put toys in their mouths, even though this is not the toy’s intended use. Where is the practical difference, then, between the baby bottle and the toy? Even though bisphenol A is not as common in toys as in other products, the permissible limit should be lower than the detection limit, thus guaranteeing the highest protection level for children’s health.

The decisions taken by the Commission regarding toys safety are not common sense. Policy makers and the toys industry are losing consumers’ trust, and should stop compromising children’s health.

The views expressed in contributed articles are those of the expert authors and are not necessarily shared by Chemical Watch.

Alexandra Caterbow, senior chemicals/health policy adviser, WECF

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