4 Sept 2015
German Association Conducts Spot Checks on Toys and Other Children’s Articles to Check for Harmful Substances
The German association for environment and conservation (“BUND”) has recently conducted spot checks on everyday products intended for children, that are commonly bought by consumers in Germany. It tested these products for plasticisers, polycyclic aromatic compounds and other harmful substances. In the course of this study, BUND found that eight out of nine tested products intended for children contained a small to a high concentration of harmful chemicals.
BUND, which is the German section of Friends of the Earth International, proclaims itself to be a non-profit, non-partisan, and non-confessional federal grassroots NGO with around half a million members and supporters. BUND’s main focus is nature conservation and environmental protection. In tackling the future’s ecological challenges, BUND responds at national and international levels, in cooperation with its partners within the Friends of the Earth network.
Between November 2014 and March 2015, BUND bought nine products targeting children and produced by nine different notable manufacturers, made out of plastic, fabric or leather.
It is noteworthy that the products were, it is claimed, mostly produced in mainland China and India. The prices of the products ranged from € 9.95 to € 29.95. The products were bought from German retailers, sports shops and online shops.
The focus of BUND’s study was on plasticisers, namely, the phthalates which the EU classifies as harmful to reproductive organs and which are suspected of having adverse hormonal effects. The term adverse hormonal effects describes a process whereby chemicals interfere with the natural hormonal system and which could lead to serious consequences such as premature puberty or obesity. The toys and other children’s articles were further tested for other harmful substances, such as polycyclic aromatic compounds, carcinogenic formaldehyde, or toluene, which is said to be damaging to the nervous system.
There was only one children’s product which did not contain formaldehyde and which showed levels of phthalate and polycyclic aromatic compounds within the admissible thresholds. The eight remaining children’s products were found by BUND to contain health-damaging chemicals.
The most shocking finding of the study turned out to be a snorkel-set for children in which BUND found a “cocktail” of phthalate plasticisers. Especially critical was the level of DEHP which amounted to 45,000 mg/kg. DEHP is the most common member of the class of phthalates used as plasticisers and is among the first six compounds that the EU is phasing out under its REACH chemicals regime. In toys, only up to 1 g/kg of DEHP is permitted. However, for snorkels and diving goggles this threshold does not apply.
Legal requirements for toys and other children’s products are developed mostly at EU level. Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys (“Toy Directive”) has laid down safety requirements for toys that are placed on the EU market, regardless of whether they are manufactured in or imported into the EU. The term toys, according to the Directive, encompasses all products that are made for children under 14 years. Besides the Toy Directive, children’s products are also subject to the complex REACH Regulation.
The Toy Directive stipulates that toys, including the chemicals they contain, shall not jeopardise the safety or health of users or third parties when they are used as intended or in a foreseeable way, bearing in mind the behaviour of children. According to BUND, this is merely a theoretical principle because up to 1,000 milligrams per kilograms (0.1%) of harmful chemicals are permitted in toys for children older than three years. In BUND’s view, this threshold is much too lenient.
BUND states that it is even more problematic that substances with hormonal effects and substances which are harmful to the environment are not considered in the Toy Directive at all.
According to BUND, the bottom line of the study is that the gaps in the legislation together with surveillance by Member States lead to children’s products being placed on the market which contain harmful substances that parents are not able to recognise. According to BUND, as long as legislators and manufacturers are too lenient with harmful substances, parents themselves have to become active.
So as to protect children, parents are advised by BUND to ask manufacturers whether there are chemical substances of very high concern in their products. The companies are obliged, under the REACH Regulation, to provide information within 45 days after the customer’s initial request.
BUND further advises parents to avoid buying products containing PVC since those often contain harmful plasticisers. According to BUND, parents should moreover smell the products since products that smell strongly often emit gaseous chemical substances which indicate that they may be harmful to children.