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PAH levels in consumer products should be as low as possible

29/2019, 09.08.2019

The BfR recommends adapting the maximum levels for the GS certification mark to match the prevailing technical standards

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is involved in the development of the criteria for awarding the national GS certification mark in an advisory capacity. Currently, the institute is working to ensure that the existing maximum levels for carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are adjusted to a level that is reasonably achievable according to prevailing technological standards. This should further reduce consumers' exposure to PAHs, since no safe dose can be derived for carcinogenic substance mixtures. From the BfR's point of view, it is technically feasible to minimise the PAH content to below 0.2 milligrams per kilogram in all common rubber materials, elastomers and plastics. This has been shown through measurement data from various test institutes for many products with comparatively low contents." From our point of view, therefore, this value should apply to the award of the GS mark for all products that have long-term or repeated skin contact," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "Consumer health protection can only be sustained if PAH levels in consumer products are kept as low as possible," emphasises Hensel.

Handles and contact surfaces of tools, toys and electrical appliances are often made of rubber materials, elastomers or plastics. These may contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are mixtures of more than one hundred individual components, which may also contain carcinogenic substances. A limit of 1 milligram per kilogram (mg/kg) of the eight PAHs classified as carcinogenic applies for all consumer products, such as sports and household appliances, tools, clothing or bracelets marketed in the EU. This value refers to the plastic and rubber parts with prolonged or repeated short-term body contact. For toys and articles for toddlers or infants, the value is 0.5 mg/kg. The threshold values have applied throughout Europe since 27/12/2015. They have been inserted to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 through Regulation (EU) No 1272/2013, Annex XVII.

The GS mark is a German certification mark for product safety and ensures "tested safety". From the point of view of the BfR, it should be based on the technically feasible maximum contents for the protection of consumers. This corresponds to a maximum content of 0.2 mg/kg PAH in plastic and rubber parts of products.

The GS mark divides products into different categories depending on the contact, grip and operating surface:

  • Category 1 includes products intended to be put into the mouth or materials in toys with long-term skin contact (longer than 30 seconds).
  • Category 2 includes products that are not in category 1, but have predictable long-term skin contact or repeated short-term skin contact.
  • Products with predictable short-term skin contact, which do not fall into the first two categories, are classified as category 3.

The award criteria for the GS mark have so far established a maximum level of 0.2 mg/kg only for category 1 products and toys.

The BfR recommends implementing this value of 0.2 mg/kg when awarding the GS mark for products in category 2 in order to further minimise health risks and improve consumer protection. Analyses show that a value of 0.2 mg/kg is technically feasible for all category 2 products. A reduction of the PAH content below 0.2 mg/kg is generally technically feasible in all common rubber materials, elastomers and plastics. Measurement data from different testing institutes have shown this with reference to many products with comparatively low content levels.

The GS mark indicates that the safety and health of the user are not endangered if the designated product is used as intended or with reasonably foreseeable misuse (e.g. mistake). The award is regulated in the law on product safety (ProdSG). It may only be used on ready-to-use products such as tools, toys, furniture or textiles. Manufacturers can apply for the GS mark for their products. This application can be made to any GS-body recognised by the Zentralstelle der Länder für Sicherheitstechnik (ZLS). The GS mark is voluntary.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent 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.

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