19 Dec 2018
Swedish Chemicals Agency Finds Prohibited Substances in Christmas Decorations
Following the investigation, the companies marketing these products ceased their sales of the products concerned. Hong Kong businesses should be aware that the infringements led to administrative fines being levied on four companies of about €2,000 in each case for failing to adhere to labelling requirements. Nine companies whose products contained prohibited substances were referred to prosecutors, due to their being suspected of criminal offences.
Mariana Pilenvik, the inspector at the SCA, commented that it is manufacturers who are responsible for ensuring that their goods do not contain prohibited substances, and urged companies to impose clear demands regarding chemical contents on their upstream suppliers.
Items containing lead and cadmium violate the EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, while high concentrations of SCCP and HBCDD are prohibited by the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Regulation. The SCA also found high concentrations of the phthalates DEHP and DBP, used as plasticisers. These will be prohibited under the RoHS Directive as from 22 July 2019. Currently, the substances are part of the REACH Regulation’s “Candidate List”, which lists hazardous substances that, although not yet prohibited, are nonetheless subject to information obligations by manufacturers and importers. A total of six products (5%) in addition to those which contained prohibited substances were found to contain substances on the Candidate List. Another seven products (6%) contained prohibited levels of lead but were covered by exceptions.
The most common deficiencies among the electric Christmas decorations were related to SCCPs in cables and other plastics, as well as lead used in the welding of electrical products. Among the 24 electrical personal care products, two items, i.e., a massager and a manicure set, were found to contain prohibited amounts of lead. The greater prevalence of hazardous substances found among Christmas decorations was attributed to the higher amount of low-priced items in this group of products.
Lead’s efficiency and low cost mean it continues to be used despite having been banned for several years. Lead can, among other things, harm the nervous system and impact intellectual development, meaning that babies and children are at the greatest risk of harm. However, lead used in welding does not typically come into contact with consumers and users. The harmful impact is concentrated at the stage of production and waste disposal when lead can leak into the environment. This also applies to cadmium, which is a toxic substance that can give rise to osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), cancer and may harm the liver. SCCPs are mainly dangerous for waterborne organisms, but is extremely persistent and is also suspected of being cancerogenic. HBCDD is likewise a highly persistent substance. It is also bio-accumulative and suspected of causing harm to unborn and new-born babies. While all phthalates are not necessarily harmful, some may affect male reproduction and several are hormone disruptors or are suspected of being hormone disruptors.
Compared with previous investigations concerning electrical products, the rate of non-compliance in the present investigation was lower. Investigations during 2014-2017 yielded non-compliance rates of 36-39%. However, these studies concerned different types of electrical products and the SCA stressed that the study should not be seen as indicative of the electronics market as a whole.
For companies wishing to ensure compliance and avoid penalties, the SCA suggests integrating chemical content requirements with the company’s general quality specifications forwarded to their upstream suppliers. This approach will also involve a company’s purchasing department and has proven to be a successful strategy for many businesses. The SCA cautions that it is important to provide suppliers with detailed lists of prohibited substances, especially since regulations such as REACH are relatively expansive and complex.
The SCA also points out that the rules in the POPs Regulation, and those of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC) which prohibits several types of heavy metals in packaging, are often overlooked. Having clear demands put to their suppliers as well as routines for randomised controls of the contents of the material bought from suppliers can help companies avoid prosecution.
The SCA also highlights that many companies are not aware that, in respect of articles (e.g., ordinary consumer goods sold to consumers) information must be supplied to downstream commercial recipients if those articles contain concentrations above 0.1% of any substance found on the REACH Candidate List. This is a key information obligation that manufacturers have to bear. Many Candidate List substances may also become prohibited in the future. To learn more about the REACH Regulation, including the Candidate List of substances, the SCA advises companies to visit the website of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA): echa.eu.
Please click on the following link to view the SCA report (in Swedish).