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“Loom band” phthalates case shows chemical regulation isn’t working (updated)

Chemical analysis has found that some loom bands & charms have very high levels of phthalates in them – well over 50% in the case of some charms. As the analysts themselves say:

 The latest loom bands craze in particular is throwing up some alarming results considering these products are so child appealing”

Loom bands – an astoundingly popular craze with children – are elastic bands that are woven together to make bracelets and other items. Sometimes they have ‘charms’ attache to them as extra decoration. Due to their popularity, there are now many different brands available in the shops.

Phthalates are a family of chemicals with similar (though not identical) properties. EU regulations currently restrict 6 phthalates to a maximum of 0.1% in toys, while other phthalates are restricted in items that can go in the mouth of children. It is clear that loom bands (or at least their charms) are breaching this regulation.

Phthalates aren’t just causing concern in Europe – for example in the US a scientific panel recently expressed their concern about the impact some phthalates could be having on male reproductive organ development.

However, consumers have no information as to which brands of bands exceeded the EU limits for phthalates – the analysts state:

“Unfortunately due to customer confidentiality we are unable to publish news on the brands that failed.”

This means that, other than the companies who have commissioned these tests, other retailers and the general public have no information as to which brands are a problem. There is no visible effort to withdraw the phthalate-laden toys from shops, nor to notify the public to stop using the affected products

It’s in Ireland that these results have received most coverage, but no regulatory action has happened up until now.

We have regulations that are supposed to protect us from hazardous chemicals, yet this case – and others – show that these are not being properly monitored and enforced.

These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both Governments and retailers need to act now!

 Update, 14th August 2014:

The Daily Mail has now covered this story, including some new pieces of information:

  • All 16 packs of ‘unofficial’ charms tested had >0.1% phthalates, with two having >50%
  • The tests were done for retailers and trading standards offices
  • The spokesperson for the lab – Birmingham Assay Office – makes the point that “The worrying thing is the charms are the bits that are most likely to end up in children’s mouths
  • A spokesperson for the Trading Standards Institute: “I would warn parents to be vigilant about loom bands – only buy from respected shops, not off market stalls, and look for a UK distributor’s address on the packing as well as a CE mark. Don’t allow your children to put them in their mouths.

This story re-affirms the fact that the current system of monitoring – mainly local authority trading standards offices in the UK – does not have the resources to properly protect consumers.

Update 2, 18th August 2014:

The Daily Mirror has now covered the story, including a quote from CHEM Trust:

The Chem Trust – which exists to help protect people and animals from dangerous chemicals – was worried by the research.

“It is clear that loom bands, or at least their charms, are breaching this regulation,” the Trust’s Dr Michael Warhurst said.

Update 3, 2nd September 2014:

The UK toy retailer “The Entertainer” last week removed loom band charms from its shelves, following the discovery of high levels of phthalates in them – here’s coverage of the story in the Independent.

Carmarthenshire Council’s Trading Standards get a pat on the back for organising testing of loom band charms in their area & emphasising the safety advice above – respected shops, CE mark & don’t allow children to put them in their mouths.

An article in Wales online on 17th August quoted CHEM Trust’s views on this issue:

The Chem Trust – which exists to help protect people and animals from dangerous chemicals – was worried by the research.

“It is clear that loom bands, or at least their charms, are breaching this regulation,” the Trust’s Dr Michael Warhurst said.

“Phthalates aren’t just causing concern in Europe – for example in the US a scientific panel recently expressed their concern about the impact some phthalates could be having on male reproductive organ development.”

Getting dangerous products off the shelves is down to council’s trading standards departments.

“Other than the companies who have commissioned these tests, other retailers and the general public have no information as to which brands are a problem,” Dr Warhurst said.

“There is no visible effort to withdraw the phthalate-laden toys from shops, nor to notify the public to stop using the affected products.”

Dr Warhurst feared there not enough trading standards officers to look into the problem.

“We have regulations that are supposed to protect us from hazardous chemicals, yet this case – and others – show that these are not being properly monitored and enforced.

“These products should be being withdrawn from the market, and both governments and retailers need to act now.”

Note: This blog has been linked to by a Lithuanian news article.