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New EU Law is Proposed to Further Reduce Lead in Toys

In 9 September 2016, the European Commission presented a proposal for a new Directive to reduce the concentration of lead in toys. This future law will impact on Hong Kong’s exporters of all toys – without exception – intended for EU customers, and should therefore be monitored closely up to its eventual adoption and implementation.

Currently, Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys lays down, by means of a table in its Annex II, part III, point 13, a list of migration limits for a wide range of elements. These elements include, for example, aluminium, cadmium, copper and lead, in dry, liquid and scraped-off toy material.

The current limits for lead are 13.5 mg/kg in dry (e.g., chalk) material; 3.4 mg/kg in liquid or sticky (e.g., finger paint) material, and 160 mg/kg in scraped off (e.g., paint) material. Hong Kong companies in the business of manufacturing toys will likely already be familiar with this list of restricted elements.

The current level of protection against exposure to lead is no longer believed to be appropriate. Therefore, the European Commission has pointed out that it is necessary to amend the current migration limits for lead and align them with the latest scientific data, in order to reduce children's exposure to lead.

Hong Kong sellers may also know that at EU level, the presence of lead in ceramics and plastic materials which come into contact with food is already restricted. Moreover, the REACH Regulation restricts the use of lead carbonates and sulphates in paint and the marketing of lead in jewellery. REACH also restricts the marketing and use of lead in articles supplied to the general public.

In view of the neurodevelopmental effects of lead on children (who are recognised as being an especially vulnerable segment of the population), which are said in particular to result in learning deficits, exposure of children to lead needs to be reduced to the maximum extent possible. This should include exposure through toys. As Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys already lays down limits in this regard, it is only necessary to amend the current migration limits and have such reduced limits implemented uniformly throughout the EU.

The Commission had launched stakeholder consultations and impact assessments, finding that its proposed measure was supported by leading consumer organisations, especially the more influential ones such as BEUC and ANEC. However, industry highlighted that the measure’s main impact would be its inability to continue making certain categories of toys, which would in turn entail lower competitiveness, higher costs and loss of employment.

Hong Kong traders will recognise that certain categories of toys may be completely banned from production in the worst case. Moreover, industry would be affected in its capacity to market certain toys, namely, arts and crafts toys, made with raw materials naturally contaminated with lead. In sum, industry foresees an increase in production costs, and a reduction in the product range.

On a more positive note, data compiled from 2,500 toy samples in Germany has shown that toys placed on the market complied at rates of between 91% and 100% with the stricter lead limits laid down in the proposed Directive.

The three current migration limits for lead are contained in one row, which is found in Annex II of Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys. The amendment of the migration limits thus signifies replacing the current three migration limits in the table by the three new migration limits. The implementation in Member State law will lead to the same change. In short:

  • Article 1 of the proposed Directive replaces the current migration limits for lead by the following new migration limits:
Table: Migration limits from toys or components of toys
Table: Migration limits from toys or components of toys
  • Article 2 of the proposed Directive stipulates the obligation for Member States to transpose the amended migration limits by the date falling 18 months after publication in the EU’s Official Journal, to apply them from that date, and to communicate the transposition measures to the European Commission.

The Council of Member States has two months in which to approve or reject the amended migration limits. If the Council envisages adopting the proposed measure, or if the Council does not act, the proposed measure is submitted to the European Parliament. If the European Parliament does not oppose the proposed measure within a four-month timeframe from the date of referral to the Council, then it must be adopted.

Please click on the following link to view the proposed Directive.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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