colourful plastic toys may be fun, but could pose a health hazard, too. A scientific committee of the European Union ( eu ), which has assessed analyses from several countries, has shown that when these toys are sucked or chewed by infants, there is a risk that hazardous softeners added to the plastic are released. However, producers claim that this risk is not significant.

Many toys, like hundreds of other products, are made out of polyvinylchloride ( pvc ). There are indications that softeners like phthalates or chlorine paraffins leach from the soft- pvc which can damage the liver, kidneys, reproductive organs or the lymphatic system. Gradually, they concentrate in the fatty tissue, muscles or organs. They can be found in mother's milk, in the atmosphere or in the groundwater. A study commissioned by an environmental organisation has shown that many toys release much higher doses of softeners than is allowed.

While there is hardly any doubt now that soft- pvc is harmful, the controversy is about the magnitude. The industry argues that a child would have to put a toy for ten hours a day in its mouth to receive a dose that may be harmful. Environmental groups, on the other hand, have been leading a campaign demanding a ban on toxic softeners. In northern Germany, for example, protesters cleared the shelves in a shop of the chain