Denmark goes it alone with phthalates ban

The EU may take Denmark to court over its decision to ban four chemicals suspected of disrupting hormones in humans

The decision to ban several potentially hazardous chemicals by the environment minister, Ida Auken (Socialistisk Folkeparti), could lead to a legal stand-off with the European Commission.

Auken has decided to ban phthalates, which are used to soften plastics such as PVC that is found in many common household goods. Mounting evidence indicates, however, that they can act as hormone disrupters and potentially cause impotence.

“I simply do not want to expose Danish consumers to unnecessary health risks,” Auken told Berlingske newspaper. “There is considerable evidence that these chemicals disrupt hormones in humans. Danish consumers should be able to safely buy dolls and swimming pools.”

The Danish ban on the four most commonly-used phthalates is set to come into force this autumn and follows a gradual phasing out of the chemicals since 1999, particularly in children's toys. But the European Commission could threaten legal action as the ban could potentially violate the EU chemicals regulation REACH, in which EU members make joint decisions on whether to allow or ban chemicals.

REACH is expected to make a decision on phthalates next spring, leading Ole Grøndahl Hansen, the director of PVC Information Council Denmark, to question Auken’s motivations for moving ahead with a ban now.

"The consumption of the phthalates, which [Auken] attacks, has been markedly on the decrease and they are on their way out in the EU. So why make this noise?” Hansen told the online network Euractiv. "We have all agreed that we [should] follow what REACH has planned, how the phasing-out should be done, but [Auken] can't even wait six months.”

But Auken argues that Denmark is well within its rights to enforce a unilateral ban, especially as there is no guarantee of an outright EU ban next year.

“The sceptics make it sound like Denmark is forced to wait until the EU maybe comes up with common rules,” Auken wrote in a press release. “But that’s rubbish. We have science behind us and the necessary legal justification.”

“Denmark is pushing for an EU ban but until that happens we will introduce a national ban to protect Danish consumers,” she added.

Professor Niels Erik Skakkebæk from the department of growth and reproduction at Rigshospitalet supports the ban.

“We know through animal testing that the chemicals can disrupt hormones and we know they are used in large quantities,” Skakkebæk told Berlingske. ”Based on this, a broad ban is sensible.”

Denmark has already attempted to implement a EU-wide ban on phthalates but this June the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) advised against it, arguing that “available data does not indicate that there is currently a risk from combined exposure to the four phthalates.”

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