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New Law Restricting Lead in Toys Published in Official Journal

On 27 April 2017, a new EU-wide law – Council Directive 2017/738 of 27 March 2017 – introducing more stringent limits on the concentration of lead in toys, was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. The text is identical to the Commission’s proposal tabled on 9 September 2016 and adopted by the EU Council on 27 March 2017.

The new Directive has amended the migration limits for lead contained in framework Directive 2009/48/EC on the safety of toys. It also requires EU Member States to pass national laws prohibiting, from 28 October 2018, the marketing of any toy that exceeds these new limits.

Hong Kong’s exporters of toys to the EU market, as well as EU distributors and retailers, will thus need to act fast to ensure that their products comply with the new requirements by this deadline.

Prior to the entry into force of the amendments contained in the new Directive, framework Directive 2009/48/EC laid down looser migration limits for lead; specifically: 13.5 mg/kg in dry material; 3.4 mg/kg in liquid or sticky material, and 160 mg/kg in scraped off material.

However, on the basis of new scientific evidence, the EU concluded that these pre-existing limits failed to adequately protect children from the harmful effects of exposure to lead. In particular, it is now understood that even (very) low-level exposure to lead is liable to cause damage to the brain and nervous system of children, which could in turn cause serious learning difficulties.

To emphasise the need for stricter measures in the run up to the adoption of the Commission’s proposal, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)’s Risk Assessment Committee highlighted that the levels of lead in the blood of EU children is, at present, up to four times higher than the recommended highest tolerable exposure limit.

To reduce the migration limits for lead in toys and align them with the latest scientific recommendations the Commission concluded that it was necessary to develop a legislative proposal amending framework Directive 2009/48/EC. This proposal then had to be approved by the EU Member States. The approval came through at a meeting of 4 October 2016. On 27 March 2017, the EU Council of Member States’ ministers formally adopted the proposal. A month later, the Directive was published in the Official Journal. Even though it entered into force twenty days thereafter, its actual application to economic operators including Hong Kong’s producer-exporters will only occur on 28 October 2018.

Article 1 of the new Directive amends the migration limits for lead set out in one row of a table under point 13 of part III of Annex II to framework Directive 2009/48/EC. In essence, this amendment replaces the three aforementioned pre-existing migration limits for lead with the following new migration limits:

Table: Migration limits from toys or components of toys
Table: Migration limits from toys or components of toys

 

Some examples of affected products are set down below:

  • Products such as chalk, crayons, compressed paint tablets, as well as plasticine and other modelling clays fall within the first column relating to dry/brittle/pliable toy material.
  • In contrast, slimes, bubble-blowing solution and liquid paints and adhesives fall within the scope of the second column relating to liquid and sticky toy material.
  • Finally, toys made from a vast array of materials including polymers, ceramics, glass, metals, textiles and woods fall within the last column relating to ‘scraped-off material’.

Hong Kong traders should be aware that the restrictions on lead imposed by Directive 2009/48/EC apply to any product designed or intended, whether or not exclusively, for use in play by children under 14 years of age. Thus, a product does not have to be exclusively intended for the purpose of play in order for it to be considered a toy; it can have other functions as well (e.g. backpacks, decorations, keyrings, etc., in the shape of a soft-filled toy).

The new Directive stipulates that Member States have to transpose the amended migration limits into their national law by 28 October 2018 and must start applying the new limits from this date. Member States will also be required to communicate their transposition measures to the European Commission.

The fast-approaching October 2018 deadline means that Hong Kong traders now have less than one and a half years to ensure that their toy products, intended for the EU market, comply with the new stricter limits. Some traders may even find that certain categories of toys could be de facto banned from being marketed in the EU after that date. For instance, questions have been raised about the continued marketability of certain arts and crafts toys made with raw materials naturally contaminated with lead.

Click here to view the Directive’s publication in the Official Journal.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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