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European Commission Takes Action Against Everyday Consumer Goods Which Contain One or More of Four Phthalates

On 12 July 2018, the European Commission announced plans to restrict articles which contain one or more of four phthalates. The phthalates to be targeted are Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP).  

Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation sets out the list of restrictions of the manufacture, placing on the market and use of certain dangerous chemical substances, mixtures and articles. According to the proposal, the four phthalates will be banned from articles used by consumers or available in indoor areas in a concentration equal to or above 0.1% by weight individually or in any combination in any plasticised material. The restriction proposal takes into account the cumulative effects and combined exposure to the four phthalates from different products.

The four phthalates are considered to be substances of high concern due to their toxic effects on reproductive health. Consumers risk being exposed to one of these phthalates or to a combination of them through different sources, such as ingesting food and dust, placing articles in the mouth, breathing in air and dust indoors, or by dust coming into contact with mucous membranes and skin.

Bearing this in mind, the future law will ban these phthalates in articles that cause exposure through the skin or by inhalation.

The articles covered will all be familiar to Hong Kong sellers, and include flooring, coating fabrics and paper, recreational gear and equipment, mattresses, footwear, office supplies and equipment, and other articles moulded or coated with plastic.

Notably, the proposal explicitly excludes outdoor goods not used and stored in dwellings where people are present under normally feasible conditions and whose phthalate-containing material is not in prolonged contact with human skin (i.e. daily skin contact of over 10 minutes continuously or 30 minutes overall), and tools used for conducting laboratory measurements.

Moreover, goods already restricted by existing EU legislation (e.g., food contact materials) will also be excluded.

As Hong Kong traders of products incorporating plastics are likely aware, the phthalates were already classified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) under the REACH chemicals regime due to their toxicity to reproduction. The Danish Environmental Agency first submitted a proposal to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to restrict the four phthalates in 2011. However, ECHA was of the view that the use of the chemicals did not pose a risk and therefore rejected the proposal in 2012.  

Thereafter, the Danish Environmental Agency resubmitted its proposal to restrict the four phthalates in 2015. The EU’s REACH Committee, composed of experts from all Member States, unanimously accepted the proposal in 2016, and in March 2017 the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) and the Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC) published an opinion in favour of the new restrictions.

The European Parliament and the Council now have 3 months to scrutinise the measure before its formal adoption by the Commission. The restriction will then be published in the Official Journal of the European Union and will apply 18 months after the date of entry into force, to products produced both in and outside of the EU.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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