On 25 January the Consumer Affairs Minister, Dr Craig Emerson, proposed an interim ban on toys and baby products containing more than 1% diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). Products covered by the interim ban include dummies, rattles, cups, plates and cutlery.
DEHP is a chemical added to the plastic PVC to make it soft and flexible. Even low level exposure to DEHP can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, and children chewing or sucking on these products are at risk. While the proposed interim ban is a step in the right direction, Australian authorities are taking a long time to act. The European Union (EU) banned DEHP and some other phthalates from toys and baby products more than three years ago, and the US banned them from February 2009.
DEHP also remains a concern in some types of plastic used for food packaging. It can migrate from the plastic into the food and while levels in food are quite low, many experts are concerned about the health risks, particularly for infants and young children. The EU has set limits of 1.5ppm (parts per million) in food for DEHP and 9ppm for some other phthalates, but there are no limits set in Australia.
CHOICE tested 25 food products in glass jars with screw caps sealed with a PVC gasket (Plasticisers). Twelve contained DEHP or other phthalates at levels above the limit set by the EU; one contained DEHP at 230 times the EU limit.
In his statement about DEHP in baby products, Dr Emerson said, “This is largely a precautionary measure because when it comes to the safety of our children, I will err on the side of caution.” Commendable sentiment, but it's only a proposed interim ban - CHOICE would like to see a greater sense of urgency in regulating dangerous chemicals in food and consumer products.