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BfR recommendation leads to the Europe-wide restriction of carcinogenic PAHs in consumer products

04/2014, 28.01.2014

The European Commission implements the German proposal

On 7 December 2013, the European Commission implemented the restriction of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in consumer products, initiated by Germany, as a binding legal standard. According to Regulation (EU) 1272/2013, consumer products shall not be placed on the market after December 2015, if they contain components which during normal use come into contact with the skin or oral cavity and whose content of specific PAHs classified as carcinogenic exceeds a given limit value. "This is a major success for consumer protection in Europe", says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "With the help of this regulation, the contact of consumers with these carcinogenic substances will be significantly reduced."

For products such as sport equipment and household utensils, tools, clothes or wristbands, the limit value is 1 milligram per kilogram (mg/kg) for each PAH compound. For toys, including activity toys, and childcare articles, a lower limit value of 0.5 mg/kg has been set. These limit values will in future be mandatory for all consumer products on the EU market.

The restriction of PAHs in consumer products is a major success of the European “REACH” Regulation which governs the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances in the European Union. REACH is based on the principle that manufacturers and users of chemicals must ensure that the substances they produce and distribute are not harmful to human health or the environment.

In a risk assessment conducted in 2010, the BfR had demonstrated levels of carcinogenic PAHs critical to human health in numerous consumer products. At the same time, many products on the market showed relatively low PAH contents. This indicated that the use of materials with low PAH levels in consumer products is in principle possible. Since no safe dose can be derived with regard to the carcinogenic effect of the relevant PAHs, the BfR advocated that the level of consumer exposure to PAHs should be as low as reasonably achievable. The German authorities (Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA), the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the BfR) submitted a joint restriction proposal under REACH to the European Commission.

Even though the decision of the European Commission does not fully implement the German proposal, the BfR welcomes that for toys and childcare articles, a lower limit value has been defined compared to other consumer products. The European Commission will review the mentioned limit values in four years time.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.