When it comes to green policies, toxic chemical law, and pretty much every other environmentally related topic, Europe is light years ahead of the United States. The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of sustainable and environmentally friendly policies. However, that record now stands to be blemished by a poor decision regarding the use of a family of chemicals called phthalates.
Phthalates are esters of phthalic acid that are used as plasticizers mainly in PVC plastics (Type 3), increasing their flexibility, transparency and durability. These chemicals have been associated with several health complications including breast cancer and hormone imbalances. As a result, the use of six particular phthalates, DEHP; BBP; DBP; DINP; DIDP; and DNOP, has been restricted to 0.01% by weight in children’s toys both in Europe and in the US.
However, the EU went a step further and during the past few years contemplated the complete phase-out of BBP, DEHP, DIBP and DBP, four of the most common phthalates in use, from every product on their market. This effort was led mainly by Danish Environmental Protection Agency and Swedish Chemicals Agency. Their efforts led to the EU to task the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to evaluate phthalates (among other chemicals) and create a final recommendation on whether or not to enact a complete market ban on phthalates in consumer products. Large European plastic companies, such as Arkema (France), ZAK (Poland) and Deza (Czech Republic), replied with ferocious intensity – demanding that ECHA maintains the status quo. This political battle has intensified in the past months.
Now, the EU set a deadline of February 21 for it’s final ruling on the four phthalates. Two of them, BBP and DIBP, received relatively little backing from the industry and will be phased out completely by the February date. However, DEHP was defended staunchly and the industry pressured ECHA to recommend the continued authorization of DEHP. The proposal by ECHA is to grant certain manufacturers four years for ongoing use of DEHP in PVC production and twelve years for ongoing recycling of PVC.
The final decision on whether or not DEHP will be banned now rests with the European Commission (EC) who has 3 months to take a position. Environmental NGO’s and certain government agencies are working hard to convince the EC to see ECHA’s recommendation as completely not objective and as the result of pressure from the plastic industry. The EU has historically made the right decision when special interests conflicted with the public’s safety. Let’s hope they maintain their good record.