From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published February 18, 2011 12:58 PM

EU Household Plastics Banning

The European Union will ban six toxic chemicals within three to five years, three of which are commonly used in plastic household items. Among the compounds are three plastic softening phthalates, a musk fragrance, a flame retardant and a hardener for epoxy resin. Although the most toxic phthalates have been banned in children's toys since 1999, a survey last October showed some are commonly found in products on supermarket shelves, including items regularly used by children, such as pencil cases and erasers. The decision is being taken under the REACH regulation on chemicals, adopted in 2006 after major debate and discussion.


The EU regulation on 'Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals' (REACH), aims to make chemicals safer for human health and the environment by placing the burden on businesses to prove their products are safe before they can be placed on the market.

Unless they obtain specific exemptions, companies will not be able to sell items containing phthalates known as DEHP, BBP and DBP, the fragrance Musk Xylene, flame-retardant HBCDD, or the epoxy resin-hardener MDA.

Musk xylene was the most widely used of the "nitro-musks", a type of synthetic musk fragrance, which mimic natural musk. It has been used as a perfume fixative in a wide variety of consumer products, and is still used in some cosmetics and fragrances.

Phthalates, or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic acid and are mainly used as plasticizers (substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity). Phthalates are being phased out of many products in the United States, Canada, and European Union over health concerns.

Use of musk xylene has declined sharply since the mid-1980s due to safety and environmental concerns. Its explosive and carcinogenic hazards are recognized. It is also a very persistent and bioaccumulative polluant in the aquatic environment.

Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD) is a brominated flame retardant. It consists of twelve carbon, eighteen hydrogen, and six bromine atoms tied to the ring. Its primary application is in extruded and expanded polystyrene foam that is used as thermal insulation in the building industry. HBCD is highly efficient in this application so that very low levels are required to reach the desired flame retardancy.

HBCD's toxicity and its potential harm to the environment are currently being discussed. HBCD can be found in environmental samples such as birds, mammals, fish and other aquatic organisms as well as soil and sediment.

Any company wishing to use the chemicals will need to demonstrate they are controlling safety issues, or that the benefits for the economy and society outweigh the risks.

The decision is a victory for campaigners who raised their concerns about hundreds of compounds in the report released last October.

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