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Is Santa bearing toxic toys?

Of roughly 2,400 consumer products checked during the process, more than 400 were found non-compliant with EU laws.
Of roughly 2,400 consumer products checked during the process, more than 400 were found non-compliant with EU laws. Copyright DIMA GAVRYSH/2006 AP
Copyright DIMA GAVRYSH/2006 AP
By Gerardo Fortuna
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Take care while unpacking Christmas stockings - the presents inside may contain hazardous chemicals such as lead and phthalates, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) warns in its latest report.

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Bath toys, dolls, costumes with soft plastic parts, play mats, action figures, fidgets, and the ever-popular slime are only a few of the toys found breaking the law in a project conducted by national enforcement authorities supervised by the EU agency.

Of roughly 2,400 consumer products checked during the process, more than 400 were found non-compliant with EU laws.

Toys were earmarked as goods with the second highest level of non-compliance, after electronic products.

“In terms of hazardous substances, we found in toys endocrine disruptors such as [forms of] chlorinated paraffin in soft plastic parts and phthalates – these unfortunately quite common in dolls – which may damage fertility,” ECHA official Maciej Baranski told Euronews.

He added that these substances are also persistent organic pollutants, meaning that they accumulate in the environment and remain toxic to human health even after they are disposed of.

“When you look at electrical toys though, lead was by far the biggest issue,” Baranski continued.

Lead is a carcinogenic and restricted substance still used in soldering points of some electronic goods. “Like any other electrical device, you need to disassemble it to get in contact with lead. Still, kids could smash these products apart,” he said.

The third non-compliant group was found to be sports devices such as yoga mats, handles for gym equipment, and bicycle gloves – another evergreen in terms of Christmas presents for those a little more grown-up.

“In this category, we also found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), another carcinogenic substance, in rubber parts of these products,” Baranski said.

The EU agency also warns of fashion products such as bags, jewellery, belts, and shoes which should be under strict scrutiny due to soft plastic parts in fake leather components and metal alloys containing another carcinogen, cadmium.

EU Chemicals Strategy and beyond

Contacted by Euronews, European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius stressed that, despite the findings of the ECHA report published on 13 December, European consumers benefit from the highest level of protection against harmful and toxic substances.

“The EU is leading the way in regulating the use of harmful chemicals including carcinogens in consumer goods - such as in electronics, sports equipment, toys, and fashion items - and work is ongoing to strengthen protection further from other harmful substances,” he said.

The EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability launched in October 2020 has announced a zero-tolerance approach to non-compliance with EU chemical rules and the strengthening of enforcement at the EU’s borders.

However, the main component of the strategy, the overhaul of the EU chemical rules (REACH) has been put on hold after several postponements and was ultimately pushed back to the next legislative mandate.

“Consumers deserve a toxic-free life. This requires lawmakers to turn the EU’s chemicals strategy into reality,” Laurens Rutten from the EU Consumers Association BEUC told Euronews.

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Protecting consumers from hazardous substances goes beyond the main chemical legislation, embracing other policy realms.

Rutten pointed out that the ongoing reform of the EU’s customs policy could also be part of the solution, as it would help prevent dangerous products from appearing on the EU market.

The ECHA reports found a significant difference between products coming from the European Economic Area (which includes EU-27, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein) where the non-compliance was at 8% and from outside the EU, where it was more than double that at 21%.

Commissioner Sinkevicius mentioned newly agreed rules on environmental crime that will require member states to classify serious breaches of chemicals legislation as criminal offences with high and effective penalties.

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“The recently agreed revised legislation on classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals will also strengthen rules on information and consumers’ rights for imported substances, including via online platforms,” the Commissioner concluded.

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