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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 17, 1998
12:22 PM
CONTACT:  Greenpeace International
Madeleine Cobbing, Greenpeace International, +44 1453 753 988
Luisa Colasimone, Greenpeace Communication, +31 20 524 9546

Greenpeace Publishes New Memos Revealing Mattel, Exxon And US Government Attempts To Undermine PVC Toys Debate
 
AMSTERDAM - June 17 - Greenpeace today released new documents revealing that Mattel, Exxon and the US government are behind the European Commission's further delay and possible abandonment of a proposal for an emergency ban on certain types of PVC toys.

One document reveals the close ties Mattel has with the US government on this issue. The letter, from Fermin Cuza, Mattel's senior vice-president to US Commerce Secretary William Daley, states "I am writing to express Mattel's appreciation for the invaluable work being done by the European country desk of Commerce's Market Access and Compliance office" (1). Fermin points to Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe, Charles Ludolph, as having been "critical in helping the US toy industry defend against recent EU initiatives to ban the use of PVC in toys" and for "aggressively fighting these restrictive European actions."

Another document shows cooperation between the US government and the Exxon Corporation. The cable from the US Representative to the EU in Brussels, Vernon Weaver, to Washington and US missions in Europe extends "heartfelt thanks to all EU posts .... in making contact with member state representatives of the EU Product Safety Emergencies Committee. We are told by Exxon Chemical Europe Inc. that the input was very effective and the weigh-in was invaluable." (2)

Emma Bonino's proposal [Consumer Affairs Commissioner] would have initiated an emergency ban on PVC toys marketed to be put in a child's mouth and containing two hazardous softeners, known as phthalates. Last week the proposal was rejected by European Commissioners and Bonino was asked to return today, with a further proposal to set 'migration limits' for phthalates in soft PVC toys.

"Establishing safe levels for hazardous softeners in PVC toys is ridiculous -the EU should ensure that these dangerous products are kept out of the mouths of babies," said Madeleine Cobbing of Greenpeace International. "We applaud the efforts of Commissioner Bonino and urge her to continue working for the emergency procedure and long-term safeguards."

The Industry Commissioner, Martin Bangemann, who is opposed to a ban, will meet today with the Danish Minister for Environment and Energy, Svend Auken, to discuss emergency and long term restrictions on soft PVC toys. Auken is quoted in two Danish papers as saying that "if Emma Bonino's main problem is resistance from Bangemann's General Directorate, then it would be good to talk to the chief of the Directorate" (3). Commenting upon the news that Mattel is lobbying actively to obstruct the ban as long as possible, Auken said: "They had better prepare themselves for a ban. I don't care if it is Danish, American or Hong Kong toy producers. It can't be right that children should run a health risk by playing with toys."

One of the softeners under scrutiny, DEHP, had already been voluntarily withdrawn by toy makers in the US in 1985. DEHP was classified in 1987 as a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (4).

"How can the US toy industry force a double standard in Europe and get away with it?" asked Cobbing. "The European Commission is surrendering children's health to the toy and chemical manufacturers' profits and the US government."

Despite the efforts of the US, a growing number of EU countries are supporting more stringent measures. In May, the Swedish government proposed a legal ban on softeners in toys for children under three, joining Austria and Denmark in proposing regulatory action.

Several German toy companies have now replaced their PVC toys with alternatives, labeling them clearly as `PVC-free'. Others like Lego, are eliminating soft PVC toys from their product line. Recently, a large Argentinian toy producer, Babelito, announced it has withdrawn soft PVC products from sale and production.

The entire life cycle of PVC plastic is a polluting process. Its production involves highly toxic precursors and generates hazardous emissions and wastes. When burned in accidental fires or waste incinerators, PVC is a significant source of dioxin and secondary hazardous wastes.

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Note for the editors:

(1) Copies of the documents, (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request in the US), are available from Greenpeace.

(2) see above

(3) Aktuelt, 13 June 1998 and Berlingske Tidende, 15 June 1998.

(4) In an opinion from 24 April 1998, the EU Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment concluded that PVC teething rings leach softeners known as phthalates up to ten times what was considered the acceptable level. DINP and DEHP were singled out as those raising the most concern. The opinion of the Scientific Committee is available on the internet at the following address:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/dg24/health/sc/ncomm8/out12_en.html

 

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