David KnottIn Europe, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been phased out for food contact applications, but now the anti-PVC lobby has turned on the toy industry.
Environmental group Greenpeace said, "The production and disposal of PVC causes large quantities of carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals to be released to the environment. These include dioxin, phthalates, vinyl chloride, and ethylene dichloride, as well as cadmium, lead, mercury, other heavy metals, and organochlorines."
While 18 million metric tons of PVC are produced globally each year, Greenpeace said the product is on the way out. Many countries have banned or restricted the use of PVC, while many retail chains and supermarkets are phasing out PVC in their product lines and packaging.
BTHA viewThe British Toy & Hobby Association (BTHA), London, says PVC is the second most common plastic after polyethylene: "On the strength of all research and laboratory testing to date, PVC is one of the safest materials with which to make toys.
"The issues surrounding the use of PVC have caused debate for a number of years, and much research has been carried out into the product. The Austrian Supreme Court has ruled that, if used normally and according to established specifications, PVC does not constitute a danger to man or the environment."
Greenpeace said phthalates used as plasticizers in PVC wrapping film migrate from the film into food. They warn of a similar process in soft PVC toys.
"Phthalates do not bind chemically to the plastic," said Greenpeace, "but sit there like water in a sponge. And they leak out. All the more so when a child sucks or chews on them.
"PVC toys are on sale in virtually all high-street shops. These toys often carry a label saying 'non-toxic' even though they may contain 40% phthalates by weight."
The European Union (EU) is considering a ban on phthalates in toys, and advises toymakers to check that six types of phthalates are below "guidance" values.
Testing needIntertek Testing Services Ltd., Leicester, says the EU has not yet worked out a harmonized test method for phthalate levels. The company offers a phthalate testing service to toymakers.
Intertek said EU guidance values are: di-(iso-nonyl) phthalate 1.2 mg/10 sq cm of sample surface area; di-(n-octyl) phthalate 3 mg/10 sq cm; diethyl hexyl phthalate 0.4 mg/10 sq cm; di-(iso-decyl) phthalate 2 mg/10 sq cm; benzylbutyl phthalate 6.8 mg/10 sq cm; and dibutyl phthalate 0.8 mg/10 sq cm.
"Some studies," said Intertek, "showed that softened PVC, when analyzed under stimulated conditions, might release phthalates in quantities that are considered to cause potential hazardous effects in young children."
The International Council of Toy Industries, New York, says opponents of the use of phthalates "have taken a potpourri of scientific half-truths and developed a campaign," and that the allegations "do not stand up to scientific scrutiny."
Yet the big toymakers appear to be taking no chances and are finding alternatives to PVC and phthalates. No doubt they recognize this issue's potential for damaging headlines.
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