29 June 2018
Sweden Investigates Banned Substances in Small Consumer Goods, and Labelling Compliance of Over 20,000 Mixtures Such As Detergents
Earlier this summer, the Swedish Chemicals Agency published a report on its investigation into the contents of goods which are small enough for children to put into their mouths. These include mobile phone cases, decorative items and home electronics. Out of the 162 goods investigated, 19 were found to contain substances that have been banned under EU legislation, such as lead and short chain chlorinated paraffins. Most of the prohibited substances were identified in electronic products and goods made of soft plastics. 59 companies were sampled, ranging from online outlets selling on, among others, Amazon or Zalando, to a range of different retail stores.
Alongside the above-mentioned report, the SCA has published another report concerning its investigation of around 24,000 chemical products to assess their compliance with European Union labelling and packaging standards. Inspectors from over a hundred Swedish municipalities joined SCA investigators in this task. Products, which hailed from over 1,400 outlets, were inspected, including laundry detergents and other cleaning products, car products and paints and varnishes. 11.5% of all products inspected were found to be non-compliant.
Banned substances in small goods: Lead has been prohibited at EU level in small goods which children can put in their mouths since 1 June 2016, as it may harm their nervous system and affect their learning ability. Hong Kong sellers may recall that the law had been published on 23 April 2015 in the EU’s Official Journal as Commission Regulation 2015/628, and was incorporated into the EU’s complex body of chemicals law, the REACH Regulation. Three small goods, imported after the ban came into effect (a fridge magnet, soap dish, and mobile phone cover), and two goods imported before the prohibition came into effect, contained banned levels of lead.
In addition, five home electronics products were found to have lead as part of their welding. The sale of such electronic products has already been prohibited for several years under the EU’s RoHS Directive. However, the consumer does not come into contact with the lead and the prohibition is therefore mainly directed at production and waste handling processes.
Ten of the inspected products contained short chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), including products such as gloves and a toothbrush holder. SCCPs are said to be highly toxic to the aquatic environment and are classified as a category 2 carcinogen. EU Regulation 2015/2030, which entered into force on 4 December 2015, bans articles containing SCCPs in concentrations higher than 0.15% by weight.
90% of the goods in which chlorinated paraffins were found were made from soft PVC plastics. In addition, 20 plastic goods contained phthalates, which are added to soften the plastic. The phthalates found are not prohibited but are included on the EU’s so-called Candidate List (under the REACH Regulation) of especially dangerous substances. Companies selling goods containing these phthalates are obliged to inform commercial dealers about their presence, and consumers have a right to be told that the goods contain substances on the candidate list if they so inquire. There is said to be no direct and immediate risk to the consumer; instead, the list’s objective is to reduce the total amount of hazardous substances in circulation. 19% of all soft plastic goods inspected contained phthalates, and, of those, 90% were made from PVC. PVC was thus found, by the SCA, to be the most problematic material in relation to both phthalates and short chain chlorinated paraffins, given its high concentration of both substances.
The companies whose goods were found to contain prohibited substances or substances listed on the EU Candidate List were contacted and voluntarily withdrew any such goods, with a view to complying with their legal obligations. However, some breaches were deemed serious enough to warrant criminal charges, and, therefore, in such cases, the companies were referred to prosecutors. Eleven such referrals were made.
Labelling and packaging requirements: Concerning the SCA’s investigation of around 24,000 chemical products, the Swedish inspectors looked at whether the inspected chemical products adhered to the unified EU rules under the CLP (Classification, Labelling and Packaging) Regulation; whether a Swedish translation was provided where necessary; whether the labels contained tactile printing for the blind; and whether the products were child-proof. Inspections were mostly carried out in retail and department stores, as well as at wholesalers.
Detergent and cleaning products had, by far, the highest number of deficiencies. Among the deficiencies, improper EU labelling was the most common (74%). Most often, this was because older product labelling guidelines, phased out last year, were still being used. 15% of the deficiencies were due to a lack of Swedish translations and 8% were due to a lack of tactile labels, whereas 3% were not child-proof.
Companies alerted of irregularities concerning their products corrected these or withdrew them from circulation. A few cases were considered sufficiently serious for the municipal authorities to levy an environmental fine on the companies concerned, or refer them to prosecutors, with recommendations that criminal charges be brought against them.