Test: Plastic products contained unwanted phthalates

13. feb 2017

A laboratory test of plastic footballs, garden hoses and other plastic products showed that half of the tested products contained problematic – but legal – phthalates. The Danish Minister for Environment and Food urges consumers to ask companies about candidate list substances.


Test: Plastic products contained unwanted phthalates
Here some of the tested plastic products - both with and without phthalates. Photo: Nikoline Oturai

Phthalates are chemical substances that are added to soften plastic. But they are unwanted in consumer products because they are suspected of having endocrine disrupting effects. The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals bought 58 plastic products in DIY stores and sent them to a laboratory to test for content of phthalates. Half of the products tested contained one or more phthalates.

24 products contained phthalates from EU’s candidate list, a list of substances of very high concern. The chemicals on the list are considered problematic, because they are either carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting, toxic for reproduction, mutagenic or detrimental to the environment.

The substances of very high concern are not banned. But many phthalates are for example prohibited or restricted in toys and child articles.

Phthalates do not only affect us by direct contact, but also through the indoor climate. For example, we can breathe in dust containing phthalates that has leaked from electrical wires. This was confirmed by research published by the Danish Ecological Council in the fall of 2016.

“Denmark has for years proposed bans on several of the phthalates found in the test due to their unwanted effects in humans and the environment. A national Danish ban had to be scrapped due to EU legislation, but now it looks as if the EU will ban the substances in the near future. Our test shows that we need a ban to remove the substances from the market,” says Claus Jørgensen, head of project in The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals.

The most extreme case in the test is a plastic football, which the manufacturer said contained no substances of high concern. The football turned out to have a content of 47 per cent of the phthalate DIBP, which is banned in Denmark in toys for children aged 0-3 years. DIBP is expected to be banned soon in the EU. The manufacturer has defined that the football is not a toy. Also another football in the test contained DIBP, however only 4 per cent.

See all the tested products (link to test in Danish).

Reminders provided answers – but many of these were incorrect

As a consumer you have the right to get an answer from the manufacturer or dealer, if a product contains substances of very high concern. The companies have 45 days to get back to you.

From August to January the manufacturers and retailers were asked about the content of candidate substances in the tested products. This took several e-mail-reminders and up to 105 working days. When the Danish version of the test was published, 3 products were left with no answers.

18 of the replies from manufacturers and retailer turned out to be wrong. The replies said that the products did not contain substances of very high concern. But our test revealed that the products contained phthalates that are listed in the EU candidate list.

“Manufacturers are the only ones who really know the content of their products. But the results of the test show that this may not be the case after all. The manufactures should know what they put in their products and the many wrong answers call for an improvement of this knowledge. The consumers have a right to know and they have to be able to make a choice regarding whether or not they want to buy a product with problematic chemicals,” says Claus Jørgensen. 

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency performed a similar control in 2015 and came to the same conclusions regarding the companies’ defective or downright wrong answers about problematic substances.

Minister to consumers: Ask questions about candidate list substances

The Danish Minister for Environment and Food Esben Lunde Larsen says that consumers can play an important role in making companies better at providing information about candidate list substances.

“It is important that consumers receive the information they are entitled to in order to enable them to make informed decisions about the products they buy. Article suppliers have a clear obligation to provide this information. Thus, I encourage retailers to be proactive and contact their suppliers to make sure they have all the necessary information about candidate list substances in their products, so that they can pass on this information quickly to consumers on request. Moreover, consumers can play an important role in making companies focus more on the need to have such information – simply by asking for it. The more we ask about the contents of candidate list substances in products, the better companies will become at providing it, and the easier it will be for everyone,” says Esben Lunde Larsen.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency will now look into the specific reports, which The Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals has sent to the authorities.


For more information, please contact:

Claus Jørgensen

Head of Project
Danish Consumer Council THINK Chemicals

mail: cj@fbr.dk