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European Environmental Network Warns of a “Flood” of Toxic Toys

According to the European Environmental Bureau (“EEB”), which is a large network of environmental NGOs, tests of imported toys revealed a high level of toxic chemicals in 248 toy models in 2019. Chemical pollution has been linked to health, developmental and environmental issues and is responsible for collapsing insect, bird and aquatic life populations. The EEB is warning consumers of a “flood” of toxic toys ahead of the Christmas trade. At the end of last month, NGOs launched a public awareness campaign to highlight the issue of chemicals in toys and the need for labelling chemicals in toys and warning labels.

51% of the tested toys were found to be contaminated with endocrine disrupting phthalates which are classified as substances of very high concern, some of which have been banned for many years. 228 of the toys were categorised as a “serious risk”. A total of 88% of the toys had, it is reported, been imported from mainland China.

Such seriously contaminated toys include dolls, Halloween masks, medical play sets and chemistry sets, slime as well as soft or squeezable toys. Half of the contaminated toys were made of plastic, almost 30% were dolls, 25% were boron-contaminated slime and around 11% were soft or squeezable toys.

Alarmingly, 92% of the contaminated toys carried the manufacturer’s CE marking which normally is supposed to guarantee compliance with the EU’s health, product safety and environmental protection standards.

The products were blocked from entering the internal market by customs officers from four EU border countries. It is important to note that toys were the most problematic goods blocked, followed by motor vehicles and electrical appliances. In addition, alerts were created in the EU rapid alert system for non-food consumer products (“RAPEX”).

Hong Kong traders may recall that already in December 2018, the EEB reported that around 250 plastic toys contained dangerous levels of toxins, notably phthalates. Back in December 2018, it was reported that a data analysis of alerts sent via RAPEX evidenced that around 250 plastic toys (e.g. dolls, modelling clay, slime and balls) contained illegal levels of toxic substances. Test results revealed that 18% of 5,625 toys tested positive for a range of controlled substances that were non-compliant with the regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (“REACH”).

A large-scale screening project for chemical pollution in 17 EU Member States studied exposure to mercury, cadmium, tobacco smoke and some phthalates and their possible relations to lifestyle, using samples and questionnaires. Bisphenol A was added as an additional substance for a group of 6 countries. The human biomonitoring survey developed by COPHES was aimed at producing data which, for the first time, would be comparable on a European scale. The participants were children aged 6-11 years and their mothers.

The results of the study showed that four types of phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP) are a health risk to children in 13 of the countries, and all children were found to be contaminated by phthalates on average twice as much as their mothers, sometimes even up to twelve times as much.

EEB identified the following reasons for the presence of harmful chemicals in toys:

  • The EU Toy Safety Directive does not generally ban substances classified as CMRs (Carcinogens, Mutagens and Reproductive Toxins), but sets high limit values for them;
  • The EU Toy Safety Directive does not generally cover PBT (persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic) and vPvB (very persistent, very bioaccumulative) substances;
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), apart from phthalates, are not yet covered by regulation;
  • Restrictions viewed as too narrow, e.g. BPA limits only apply to children until 3 years of age or toys that are intended to be placed in the mouth;
  • The definition of “toy” is viewed as too narrow (e.g. carnival masks are not considered as toys);
  • Recyclers are legally allowed to trade in plastic containing higher concentrations of chemicals than new material;
  • Manufacturers are not required to label toy ingredients.

The EEB’s chemical policy manager called toxic toys “clearly a major problem” for officials and spoke of “appalling numbers” and a “flood” of toxic toys. The policy manager underlined that toxic chemicals have no place in toys and called for the toy industry to “wake up to its duty of care and detox quickly”.

The EEB also calls for tougher laws on the industry and for EU lawmakers to ban all toxic chemicals and close the perceived loopholes. In the meantime, the EEB suggests a mandatory label for all toys sold in shops specifying chemical ingredients and displaying warning signs, if necessary.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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