Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, November 10, 1999 Published at 14:12 GMT


Europe to ban PVC toys

PVC is feared to be potentially dangerous to children

By Karen Bowerman, BBC Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Soft PVC teething toys will almost certainly disappear off shelves in Europe by Christmas after the European Commission recommended a ban on Wednesday.

Safety campaigners have always said such toys are dangerous as the chemicals are linked to cancer and infertility.

But the British government insists toys sold in the UK pose no health risk.

Thousands of soft PVC toys are sold across the UK each year - contributing to an industry which is worth nearly £2bn.

Many of the toys contain phthalates - chemicals which make PVC pliable.

The softeners have been used in toys for the past 50 years.

But there are fears they could be linked to cancer, liver problems and infertility.

Safety campaigners have wanted the chemicals banned for years - they claim if babies or young children spend a lot of time chewing or sucking toys which contain them, the phthalates could leak out and cause toxic effects.

Tests on the effects of phthalates have produced varying results.

Action has been taken

[ image: Jim Murray wants a total ban]
Jim Murray wants a total ban
But they have already convinced five European governments to work towards getting the chemicals phased out.

The Belgian health minister Magda Alvoet said: "Given the fact that we are talking about health risks for babies and very small children I think we have to apply the precautionary principle, and not allow a situation in which children's health can be put at risk."

The European Consumers' Association (ECA) asked the EU to impose a Europe-wide ban on the use of softeners in all toys for children under the age of three.

The Commission has recommended a ban on all teething toys for children under three, but stopped short of similar action on other toys.

Instead, it suggested that health warnings be put on these.

Both the warnings and the proposed ban on teething toys have to be approved by experts. If they are, the proposals could come into effect before Christmas.

EU consumer protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "The ban is to protect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. We received scientific advice that phthalates pose a serious risk to human health and decided to react immediately when scientists concluded that the available control tests on these products do not provide a reliable guarantee of protection."

The BBC's Denise Mahoney: "The ban comes into effect immediately"
The ECA is still pressing for all PVC toys to be banned.

Jim Murray, ECA director, said: "We think the proposal does not go far enough because it is restricted to objects intended to be put in the mouths of children under three, and of course children under three do not know what they are supposed to put in their mouth, and what they are not."

The British government and manufacturers in the UK claim toys sold here are unlikely to release dangerous levels of phthalates.

They say they are safe, and have undergone rigorous tests which show that while chemicals are released, they are well below danger levels.

Some toy manufacturers, including the makers of Tommee Tippee and Chicco baby products, are trying to use alternative plastics anyway.

Other companies are beginning to bring out toys which they're labelling 'PVC free'.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes

Relevant Stories

15 Sep 99†|†Health
Europe considers tests on PVC toys

16 Dec 98†|†Sci/Tech
Simple treatment makes PVC safer

02 Jul 98†|†Health
Rubber ducks in toxic lather

Internet Links

Greenpeace International

The PVC Centre

European Commission

British Plastics Federation

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99