8 Sept 2017
Four Phthalates Identified as Endocrine-disrupting Substances of Very High Concern
Hong Kong traders should take note that, pursuant to Commission Implementing Decision 2017/1210, four phthalates have been identified by the European Commission as Substances of Very High Concern (SVHCs) due to their having endocrine-disrupting properties. They have been described on the European Chemical Agency (ECHA)’s so-called Candidate List of SVHCs in this capacity.
Hong Kong sellers of a variety of household goods made of or with plastic will be aware that phthalates are a group of chemicals primarily used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are present in many products in homes, workplaces, hospitals and cars, such as vinyl flooring, plastic packaging and inflatable toys. Phthalates are also found in personal care products, including soaps, shampoos, hair sprays and nail polishes.
The phthalates in question are:
1. Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP),
2. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP),
3. Benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), and
4. Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP).
Interestingly, DEHP, DBP, BBP and DIBP are already included in the Candidate List as substances that are toxic for reproduction. The European Commission’s new decision is the result of a Danish initiative. Back in 2009, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency documented the health risks of the phthalates in a study which sought to examine the entire group of phthalates and identify whether there was a need to restrict their use, and, if so, propose such a restriction.
In 2014, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency submitted four dossiers for the identification of each of the above-mentioned phthalates as Substances of Very High Concern due to their endocrine-disrupting properties. The dossiers were considered in two parts: one covering the human health aspects, and the other covering the environmental aspects. However, the environmental aspects of the dossiers were subsequently withdrawn for three of the phthalates: DBP, BBP and DIBP.
ECHA’s Member State Committee (MSC) voted unanimously for the identification of DEHP as “having endocrine-disrupting properties for which there is scientific evidence of probable serious effects to the environment”. The Committee also voted for the identification of all four phthalates as having endocrine-disrupting properties to human health.
It is very rare for chemicals to be recognised as substances of very high concern due to their endocrine-disrupting properties, and the initiative has been described as a ‘historic’ vote by many commentators.
The identification of these four phthalates as endocrine disruptors paves the way for proposals to be made to include these substances on the REACH restrictions list (Annex XVII). This, in turn, could have a direct impact on Hong Kong sellers of consumer goods, as the Commission may eventually impose a plethora of restrictions on the use of these phthalates in either several or all of the goods which contain them, subject, possibly, to only a few exemptions.
Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation already imposes strict restrictions on the use of certain phthalates in children’s toys: a restriction that has impacted toy sellers throughout the EU for over a decade.