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EU Law Restricting Phenol in Toys to Begin Applying Imminently

Hong Kong’s toy sellers will be aware that Directive 2009/48/EC is the framework toy safety Directive for all toys that are sold to EU consumers. This framework toy safety Directive provides for the adoption of migration limits and lowered content limits for chemicals that are found in toys intended for use by children under 36 months of age or that may be placed in the mouth. These are listed as amendments to Appendix C to Annex II of Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys. Commission Directive 2017/774 incorporates phenol into this framework.

Hong Kong’s toy manufacturers will likely be aware that phenol can be used in toys:

  • as an antioxidant in polymers;
  • as a monomer for phenolic resins in the manufacture of resin-bonded wood; and
  • as a preservative in water-based liquid toys such as bubble-blowing products or water-based liquid inks, e.g. felt-tipped marker pens.

The Commission Directive notes that phenol was identified in emissions from game consoles, in one of six analysed tents or tunnels for children, and in packaging film. It was tested in bath toys and other inflatable toys, and it was considered to be present in polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Hong Kong companies manufacturing consumer goods may also know that phenol (a type of carbolic acid) is found in a wide variety of industries and products. It can be traced to plastics and synthetic fibres in the manufacturing of children’s toys, and, as mentioned above, in packing film.

As a monomer, phenol is also used as a compound in the creation of synthetic polymers like phenolic resin and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which are used in the manufacture of resin-bonded wooden toys or glues. The new restrictions on phenol content are thus set to affect exports by Hong Kong toy sellers to EU customers. 

Indeed, phenol has long been regulated in toys in the EU, though not as severely. Under CLP Regulation 1272/2008 – the base regulation for substance classification, labelling, and packaging – phenol ranks among the hazardous substances that are classed as mutagenic category 2. According to this classification, phenol was previously restricted in toys but only with a 10,000 mg/kg content limit, correlating with its 1% content limitation in mixtures. Additionally, no migration limit for phenol was provided.

Taking into account scientific evidence on phenol toxicity, the European Commission was persuaded by the Expert Group on Toy Safety (more specifically, by its sub-division “Chemicals”) which it had established, that the existing measures restricting phenol in toys were insufficient for children’s safety. It was contended that the health risks posed by toxic phenol exposure include, but are not limited to, damage to the skin, organs, red blood cells, and immune system, and even death. Children have generally been shown to be more vulnerable to the dangers of chemical exposure than adults; infants are especially sensitive to phenol exposure.

In the light of the above, the subgroup ‘Chemicals’ recommended to the Commission that phenol be limited in toys to 5 mg/l (migration limit) when analysed in polymeric materials, and to a maximum concentration of 10 mg/kg (content limit) when analysed as a preservative, it being understood that 10 mg/kg (content limit) is a de facto use ban. Furthermore, Hong Kong toy producers should note that analyses should be carried out in accordance with European standards EN 71-10:2005 and EN 71-11:2005.

In sum, the following entry, mentioned in the table below, has been added to Directive 2009/48/EC:

Table: Appendix C to Annex II
Table: Appendix C to Annex II

Member States are required to adopt the laws, regulations and administrative provisions that are necessary to comply with the above-mentioned restriction by 4 November 2018. They have to apply those provisions from the same date, i.e., from 4 November 2018, in their respective territories. Those provisions will be equally applicable to both domestic and imported toys.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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