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Banned chemicals in e-commerce products

News 12/17/2018

The Swedish Chemicals Agency has reviewed the chemical contents of toys, jewellery and electronics purchased via e-commerce. 40 of 106 products contained banned chemical substances in concentrations above the limit values specified in the legislation. The results suggest a considerable risk that products from online merchants outside the EU contain banned chemicals.

E-commerce
E-commerce

“When you shop online, it's important to think about which company you're buying from and where the company is based. Products sold directly to consumers from companies outside the EU are not always designed to meet European safety requirements,” says Frida Ramström, an inspector at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

In the enforcement project on e-commerce, the Swedish Chemicals Agency inspected products from online stores based in Sweden, in other EU countries and in non-EU countries. A comparison of 87 equivalent products in the project shows that the proportion of products with banned substances was highest among products from e-businesses outside the EU. 43 percent of the products purchased from non-EU companies contained banned substances. Among the products from Swedish e-retailers, 35 percent contained banned substances. The corresponding figure for the products from e-retailers in other EU countries was 23 percent.

The most common deficiency discovered in the examined products was the use of lead in the soldering of electronic products. Among toys, the most common defect was impermissible levels of phthalates, which were found in nine toys. Phthalates are a group of substances used to make plastic soft, some of which are endocrine disrupters or suspected endocrine disruptors. In the examined jewellery, the most common deficiency was impermissibly high levels of cadmium, which could damage the kidneys and bones.

“There is no major health risk in having a few products with banned substances in your home, but the total amount of hazardous chemicals in many different products can eventually cause health and environmental problems. In order for us to achieve a non-toxic everyday life and a non-toxic environment, the proportion of products with dangerous substances needs to be reduced,” says Frida Ramström.

The Swedish Chemicals Agency's investigation of e-commerce consists of random sampling controls, and the results do not provide a statistically reliable picture of the entire market. In the report, the agency notes that the results still indicate a considerable risk that products purchased from non-EU companies may contain unauthorised substances.

In addition to the comparable products, the Swedish Chemicals Agency tested twelve mobile phone chargers that were purchased by the The National Electrical Safety Board from the e-commerce site Wish. The chargers had serious electrical safety deficiencies and The Swedish Chemicals Agency's inspections indicate that all twelve of these contain high concentrations of lead and that two of them also contain cadmium.

In its report, the Swedish Chemicals Agency notes that the shift of private trade to e-retailers outside the EU poses challenges to regulatory agencies, but there are opportunities to increase safety. In the report, the Swedish Chemicals Agency highlights three areas for measures to reduce the risks posed by hazardous substances in products from international online trade:

  • Consumers need to be more aware of the risks that may be involved in buying products directly from companies outside the EU.
  • More internet-based companies need to take responsibility for the products they market.
  • Regulatory agencies within and outside the EU need to improve their cooperation.

“Online merchants need to take greater responsibility for delivering safe products to their customers. We also want to strengthen our cooperation with authorities in countries where many companies are engaged in e-commerce aimed at consumers in the EU,” says Frida Ramström.

Read the report (in Swedish with an English summary on page 6)

Tips for online shoppers

  • Consider the country in which the company from which you are purchasing the products is located. Products that may legally be sold in countries outside the EU may be banned in Sweden if they contain certain unhealthy or environmentally hazardous substances.
  • Check whether electronics and toys bear the “CE” marking, which is a certification from the manufacturer that the products meet the European safety requirements.
  • Try to choose good quality products from well-known suppliers. The Swedish Chemicals Agency's inspection findings suggest that low-priced products from lesser-known brands often contain banned substances.

The substances found in e-commerce products

  • Phthalates are a group of substances, not all of which are harmful. However, some phthalates can affect the development of the testicles and make it difficult to have children. Certain phthalates are endocrine disrupters or suspected endocrine disruptors.
  • Short-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs) are harmful to aquatic organisms. They are also highly persistent, do not biodegrade, and are suspected carcinogens.
  • Lead can affect the central nervous system, cadmium damages the kidneys and the skeleton, and nickel can cause contact allergies.

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Frida Ramström, Inspector, +46 8 519 41 192

The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s press service, +46 8 519 41 200, press@kemi.se

E-mail addresses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s employees are written as follows: firstname.surname@kemi.se

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