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France Investigates Safety of Babies’ Nappies

On 23 January 2019, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (“ANSES” or “the Agency”) published an Opinion based on a Report relating to the safety of babies’ nappies. In its Opinion, ANSES assesses the risks of chemicals found in babies’ nappies, highlighting several chemicals for which safety thresholds are seen to have been exceeded, and provides a range of recommendations directed at manufacturers and at lawmakers.

The Report followed an official request made to ANSES by the French Directorates-General for Health, for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control, and for Risks Prevention. It is, reportedly, the first time that the risks to infant health, posed by chemicals found in nappies, have been assessed by a health and safety agency worldwide.

The assessment carried out by ANSES follows analyses and tests conducted by the Joint Laboratories Service and the French National Consumers Institute between 2016 and 2018 on several brands of nappies which, according to the agency, were representative of the French market. The Agency did not, however, name the nappy brands that were subject to the tests and analyses.

The analyses performed showed that several hazardous chemicals are present in babies’ nappies, which may be in contact with a baby’s skin, in particular through urine. According to ANSES, some of these chemical substances are added intentionally by the manufacturers, such as fragrances which may cause skin allergies. In addition, other chemicals may result from the contamination of raw materials or manufacturing processes. Examples of this category include DL-PCBs, dioxins and furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

ANSES’s expert assessment showed that the concentration levels of the substances identified could pose a risk to babies’ health. The chemicals exceeding the threshold value include fragrances (butylphenyl methylpropional - Lilial®, hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde - Lyral®), certain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), PCB-126, and all the DL-PCBs, dioxins and furans.

In addition, the Agency also found that Glyphosate was present in the nappies, although only low levels were identified. This is a finding of significant concern in France where, as Hong Kong manufacturers may recall, Glyphosate has already proved to be highly controversial, with the French government having said that it intends to ban the weed killer by 2021.

In light of the risks identified, ANSES has issued several recommendations. First, ANSES recommends ceasing the use of all fragrances, especially those that may cause skin-sensitizing effects. Second, the agency calls on manufacturers to improve their checks on the sources of natural raw materials that could be contaminated even before the manufacturing stage. Third, it asks the industry to eliminate those “chemicals found in single-use baby diapers, or reduce them as much as possible".

In addition, ANSES’s Opinion recommends reinforcing the monitoring of chemicals in disposable nappies which are currently marketed in France.

The Agency also calls on the government to impose more stringent regulation both at national and EU level, in particular in the framework of the REACH Regulation. This could be achieved by imposing a new restriction procedure by type of article, under Annex XVII of REACH.

It is reported that, following the publication of ANSES’ recommendations, the French Ministry for Health summoned nappy manufacturers and warned them that reinforced inspections would be performed. It has also been reported that the government, through a joint statement from health, finance and environment ministers, gave manufacturers 15 days to design an “action plan” to implement the recommendations published by ANSES.

Hong Kong exporters of childcare articles may like to know that the French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn has reportedly said that there was "no serious or immediate risk" to babies' health and that nappy use was not being discouraged. According to her, the government would accept a period of up to six months for production methods to change.

On the side of the nappy producers, Group'hygiène, which is the French hygiene product manufacturers’ trade association, has reportedly stated that more than three billion nappies were used every year without any adverse health effects and that several quality and safety controls were already in place. Valérie Pouillat, who acts as managing director of the trade association is reported to have said that “manufacturers would co-operate with the authorities to continue to meet the expectations of consumers”.

In addition, Edana, the trade association representing most manufacturers of baby nappies in the EMEA market, is reported to have said that nappies on the EU market "meet or exceed all applicable national and European regulations". It reportedly pointed out to two other recent studies, which, as alleged by the trade association, have found that nappy products comply with EU law. In particular, Edana referred to a 2017 study by the Swiss Federal Office for Food Security and Veterinary Affairs, which allegedly concluded that nappies "do not contain any substances or chemicals that may pose a health risk to infants" and to a 2018 market study by the Belgian Federal Public Health Service that is said to have reached the same conclusion.

Please click on the following for ANSES’ full Opinion and Report (available only in French).

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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