Toxic Chemicals, Children's Products

26 May 2010 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about diethylhexyl phthalate.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 18 April, it was reported that Queensland was to be the first Australian jurisdiction to ban products containing more than 1 per cent of the toxic chemical diethylhexyl phthalate, commonly referred to hereafter as DEHP, at least by me. This toxic chemical can be found in some children's toys, dummies and babies bottles.

It is not the first time the issue of the use of chemicals in the manufacture of utensils and products for eating and drinking has come to our attention. As of 2 March this year, the federal government has placed an interim ban on the use DEHP, which is used to manufacture clear plastic products, such as babies bottles, food utensils, toys and childcare articles, mainly for younger children.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is aware of concerns relating to DEHP and BPA on another matter and is examining studies relevant to the chemical and its effects when used in food storage. My questions are:

1.What effect does the federal interim ban have on the sale of children's products in South Australia?

2.Does South Australia intend to follow in Queensland's footsteps and formally legislate a ban?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (14:31): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions. Indeed, South Australia is vigilant in ensuring that consumer products are safe for all consumers but particularly those involving young children and babies because the developmental effects on younger people tend to be far greater than on adults, depending on the substance, of course.

DEHP is a chemical identified by the unique Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS), and it is known by the name mentioned by the honourable member—

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: No, I won't; I couldn't do her justice. DEHP is commonly used as a plasticiser that is used to make plastics such as PVC soft and flexible, and honourable members can imagine how common that could be in toys. Studies have shown that even low level exposure of DEHP can affect reproductive development, particularly in young boys, obviously putting children chewing or sucking the items containing the chemical at risk.

DEHP was declared a priority existing chemical for public health risk assessment by the Minister for Health and Ageing on 7 March 2006, and a draft assessment report was subsequently released by the National Industrial Chemical Notice and Assessment Scheme in January 2010. The report found that currently the use of DEHP in children's toys and childcare articles in Australia is limited, and we were very relieved to receive that report.

The report recommended that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission consider appropriate regulatory measures to limit the exposure of DEHP resulting from the use of DEHP in toys and childcare articles where significant mouth contact might occur. In response to this recommendation, the Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs declared a ban on certain products containing more than 1 per cent in weight of DEHP. The interim ban took effect from 2 March 2010 and is in force for 18 months, unless revoked earlier. The commonwealth ban applies to those products here in South Australia.

The ban applies to toys, childcare articles, eating vessels that are used by children up to 36 months of age and includes dummies, bibs, feeding bottles and cups. The ban does not include clothing, footwear, sporting goods, swimming aids, toys and such like. DEHP is banned from toys and childcare products in the United States of America and the European Union. The ban does apply here in South Australia to those products that have been assessed as posing a risk to our young children.