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EU Enforcement Project Finds High Levels of Restricted Chemicals in Toys, Jewellery and Other Consumer Goods

In February 2018, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) published a report on the fourth REACH-EN-FORCE (REF-4) project of its Enforcement Forum. The project aims to raise awareness of chemical restrictions which are set out in Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation, to identify non-compliance by economic operators and to follow up with enforcement action.

During the year 2016, 29 countries participated in analytical product inspections which tested the content of the restricted substances in mixtures or articles. The types of products inspected included textiles, toys, jewellery, plastic material, glues, spray paints, brazing fillers and childcare articles. As several of these product types are commonly exported by Hong Kong and Chinese mainland sellers, the report will be of interest.

The participating countries reported 5,625 product checks which covered 17 substances, 1,009 mixtures and 4,599 articles. 82% of the products checked complied with REACH restrictions. The average non-compliance rate was at 18%. Considering that REACH restricts the use of chemicals with grave risks to health or the environment, the report highlights that this is a high number.

The highest non-compliance rates in the scope of the project concerned phthalates in toys, asbestos fibres in second-hand products and heavy metals in jewellery. Additionally, high chromium VI levels were found in leather articles.

Phthalates are suspected of being toxic for reproduction and endocrine disruptors. It is prohibited to place toys and childcare articles on the market with certain phthalates that have concentrations greater than 0.1% by weight of the plasticised material that can be put in the mouth by children. 19.7% of the products contained higher levels of the phthalates DEHP, DBP and BBP and 10.4% of the products contained higher amounts of DINP, DIDP, DNOP.

It is prohibited to manufacture, place on the market and use asbestos fibres and articles and mixtures containing these fibres that are added intentionally. 13.6% of products were non-compliant. The non-compliant articles (catalytic heaters, thermos flasks, brake pads) were mainly from the second-hand market and the report therefore found it possible that the articles may have been produced before the restriction of asbestos fibres came into force. However, it is illegal to place any asbestos containing products on the market.

Heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead are restricted in jewellery due to various health risks. Nickel can cause skin allergies. Cadmium can cause osteoporosis or cancer and is toxic to the environment. Lead can damage the nervous system and impair intellectual development.

The maximum concentration limit for cadmium is 0.01% by weight of the metal in metal beads and other metal components for jewellery-making, and in metal parts of jewellery and imitation jewellery articles and hair accessories. The maximum concentration of lead in jewellery articles is 0.05% by weight. Nickel has a maximum release rate for articles intended to come into direct and prolonged contact with the skin of 0.5 μg/cm2/week (0.2 μg/cm2/week for post assemblies which are inserted into pierced ears and other pierced parts of the human body).

The product checks revealed non-compliance with regard to all heavy metal restrictions. 6.7% of jewellery products that were tested contained lead above the restricted concentration limit. The non-compliance rate was at 7.9% for nickel and 12.1% for cadmium.

Chromium VI is restricted in leather articles that touch the skin. The maximum concentration limit for chromium VI is 3 mg/kg. Higher levels of chromium VI were found in 13% of leather articles.

An analysis of non-compliance rates by origin showed that the highest rate of non-compliant products was imported from mainland China (17% of the non-compliant products). Products originating from within the EU/EEA were non-compliant in 10% of cases. Products whose origin could not be identified were non-compliant in 39% of cases.

The report concludes that the results of this enforcement project show significant amounts of non-compliant products on the EU/EEA market. It issues several recommendations to companies and authorities.

As non-compliance with REACH restrictions is not visible by just looking at the product, the role of companies in the supply chain is highlighted. The report suggests proactive testing of the products and agreements between suppliers and companies which place chemicals or articles on the market that may contain substances restricted under REACH’s Annex XVII.

To authorities, the report suggests targeting chemicals with high non-compliance rates revealed by the REF-4 enforcement project and where the resulting health risks are high. It suggests prioritising enforcement actions against products with no origin marking.

Furthermore, the Enforcement Forum has prepared a Compendium of analytical methods to be used as a reference when checking compliance with REACH restrictions for both companies and authorities.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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