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The Advertisement

On March 3, 1998 Greenpeace placed an advertisement in different Dutch Newspapers with following content: (unauthorised translation)

Important message for the parents of young children


From research there is evidence that toys made from soft PVC (vinyl) can be harmful for the health of your children. These toxic toyies, like bite rings, bathbooks and soft beep-animals, still are sold.
Be aware of soft PVC-toys of the marks Tyco (Sesame Street), Hasbro (Playskool) and Mattel. They still ignore the call of the State Secretary of Public Health to recall these toys from sale. 

Want to know more? Call: +31 (020) 422 33 44



The complaint

As reaction on the advertisement, the Chlorophiles filed a complaint on March 27, 1998, at the Dutch Advertising Code Council. Especially the use of the word "toxic" was, according to us, contrary to the truth and makes parents of young children unnecessary anscious.
The complaint was backed by following background:

Stabroek, May 11, 1998.

1. Greenpeace defends the position that, taken into account the advisory character of the advertisement, she may call toys toxic, if it can be harmful for the health of children. The Chlorophiles have the opinion that the facts don't justify the use of an expression like 'toxic' in relation to toys, simply because that is not true and misleading. Just because of the advisory character, a careful use of words is especially necessary and makes the use of the word 'toxic' the more condemnable. Because, what is meant with the word 'toxic', where do we go through whith that? Not like Greenpeace suggests that it points to the presence of toxic ingredients. No, Greenpeace suggests in her advertisement with the word toxic that the toys with certainty are dangerous, life treatening and possibly lethal. This is untrue and misleading and Greenpeace has not given any evidence for that.

Misleading is to call a product toxic when it can be harmful for health. In this case, Greenpeace goes farther by qualifying a product as toxic while it is not even proven that it is harmful. Because that is the discussion point for now. It is questioned that a product under certain circumstances, by prolonged and intensive sibbling, probably leaches so much substances that harmful effects on health can be observed. This uncertainity about harmfulness brings Greenpeace in relation to the 'certainty' of toxicity and that is untrue and rejectable.

Differing of what Greenpeace claims, a product is not toxic if it contains toxic substances. If that would be true, then all products are toxic, including all food, because these contain salt. One table spoon of salt is a deadly poison for an adult, but a little bit of salt in food is O.K., even necessary for life. Is all food then toxic? Of course not. The same is true for a lot of other substances: alcohol is deadly at 200 grams, of phthalates one must have an intake of more than two liters, but even water is lethal if one drinks more than 10 liters in a short time...

Greenpeace, according to her own publications (production 1, ref. [41]), knows very well the symbols that are used internationally to indicate which materials are harmful or toxic at a certain dose.
For phthalates, Greenpeace used the Andreas cross (for an explanation, see production 2, ref. [42]), that means that these can be harmful and not toxic, because therefore there is another symbol. Otherwise, from this (production 2, ref. [42]) follows that, for the Dutch directives, phthalates are neither harmful nor toxic. Even for some substances like alcohol, it is obliged to put remarks on the bottle that these must be kept away from children, that is not necessary for phthalates.

2. For a good judgement, it is important to look carefully at the facts. To begin with, it is important that, different of what Greenpeace claims, there are ample products where so much health tests were done for as for phthalates. There are already studies since 1943. The interest for phthalates is, amongst others, a result of its intensive use for medical purposes like bloodbags and tubings.
With tests on rodents, above a certain level, effects (especially on liver function) are observed. That means that, above a certain exposure level, phthalates are toxic for rodents. Below that level, no health effects are observed. The point where no effects are observed is called the NOAEL (No-Observed-Adverse-Effect-Level). The TDI for humans, that means the Tolerable Daily Intake (calculated for an entire life), is a safety factor of 100 below the NOAEL for the most vulnerable rodents. For humans, there have never been seen effects. The discussion where it is going about here is not that the NOAEL even by approximation is surpassed, but that preliminary and contested research in Denmark and The Netherlands has revealed that probably by a certain use during a few months the TDI can be exceeded. The discussion therefore goes on the question if, and if yes to what extent, the TDI is exceeded, or the safety margin during a short time is less than 100, where it is sure that the NOAEL in no case is exceeded.

3. Although from the beginning the representativity of the measurements were questioned, the industry has taken these matters very seriously and have consulted internal and external experts.
The first investigation, after receiving the letter of the Inspection Service of Goods of July 16, 1997, was the verification of the used testmethod.
The summary of this investigation, done by TNO, is added as annex (production 3, ref. [43]). The conclusion is that TNO comes to completely different results, which are a factor 8-34 lower than the previously reported.
These values are in accordance with normal values and testresults in Germany, done by three independent institutes, following the by the BGA (Federal Health Authority) prescribed testmethods (complete TÜV-report in production 4, ref. [44], explanation in production 5, see Greenpeace toy tests investigated).
Otherwise, Greenpeace in Germany has ordered measurements on toys for themselves. The results of these measurements could not be reproduced by independent institutes and were qualified as exceptionally differing and uncarefully (production 5, see Greenpeace toy tests investigated). Greenpeace did not accept an offer of the German industry to conduct a new test together, to be done by an independent institute, which is quite remarkable.

In The Netherlands in the mean time, on the base of the TNO results, an independent investigation has started under the conduction of the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Contrary to the Consumer's organisation, Greenpeace refuses to cooperate with this investigation, as can be read in her letter of March 18 to the Ministry of VWS (production 6, ref. [45]). She doesn't see much for a scientific approach and maintains her dogma.

In her answer of March 31, (production 7, ref. [46]), State Secretary Terpstra emphasises again that, even if the TDI for certain products is temporarely exceeded (whereof, on the base of the most recent knowledge, is no indication, see production 8, ref. [47]), there is no special danger for the safety or health of humans, let it be that there should be 'toxic' products, in which case legal action should follow.

That the State Secretary for the moment still maintains here call for prudence, has more a political than a healthtechnical meaning. Like as worded in the press release of October 15, the industry has rightly opposed this call, on ground of arguments, the State Secretary herself used, because no special danger is to be feared. This is even more right, because of more recent investigations reveal that there is no exceeding of the TDI, let it be of the NOAEL. There is of course no reason to claim the Precautionary Principle. There are more than necessary serious scientific investigations that prove that there is no serious risk connected to the use of phthalates in toys. Especially if there are no health effects seen in vulnerable animals at doses several times higher than the real intake, even if we take into account the figures from strong differing tests.

Even the very recent investigation of the EU Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (production 9, ref. [48]) is no motive to start measures like Greenpeace wants. There is in fact the constatation that there is some uncertainty if the safety margin is respected in all cases, for which the Dutch investigation must be awaited for. Even the Committee doesn't see a motive for measures.

In the letter of Greenpeace of March 18 Greenpeace also talks about the many alternatives that can be used instead of PVC. Has Greenpeace tested these materials and can there not be some leakage of substances? Recently. in Belgium some rubber baby soothers were withdrawn from the market, because of too high nitrosamine leakage (a real cancerogen, even for humans). From a brochure of Greenpeace about alternatives for PVC (production 9, ref. [14]) iron is presented as a good alternative for PVC. The conclusion of a for Gastec by CML (Centre for Environmental Science, Leiden), produced scientific report (production 10, ref. [17], see also Life Cycle Analyses of PVC and alternatives) is that this material, in all environmental items, even human toxicity, is worse than PVC. The same is true for copper, but then Greenpeace must reread the report of Friends of the Earth, 'As long as there is stock'. The oppressing question remains whereon Greenpeace bases the presented alternatives. For the moment we do still prefer a known, managed risk than an unknown and thus not managed risk.

In conclusion it can be put that the statement that toys made from (phthalate containing) soft PVC are toxic, should be qualified as wrong, untrue and seriously misleading, that Greenpeace has not succeeded to prove the contrary, that for the rest no other grounds for justification exist, or for Greenpeace some 'special status' should be considered on ground of which this complaint should be dismissed.

Stabroek, May 11, 1998.

In name of the not-for-benefit association Chlorophiles,

Ferdinand Engelbeen


The verdict


Dossier 98.0189

The judgement of the Commission

(unauthorised translation)

Defendant points in the challenged warning to the fact that investigations have disclosed that toys made from soft PVC can be harmful for the health of young children and further gives expression to her uneasiness that such toys still can be bought. This expression therefore is a matter of propagation of ideas, as is meant by article 16 of the Dutch Advertising Code (NRC), what means that the expression solely may be tested for the criteria: against the law, the truth, misleading and imitation.

In relation to the indication "toxic toyies" the Commision considers what follows: "Toxic" gives the impression that the toys pose a direct danger for health.
Because of the -according to by parties produced items- still existing uncertainty to the question if and if so, to what extent, the health of young children can be harmed, the expression where the defendant points to the toys as "These toxic toyies" is too categorical and therefore misleading.
The more, otherwise than suggested, the possible harm regards not PVC but the added softener.

The decision

Based on the foregoing considerations, the Commission considers the expression as in conflict with article 7 of the NRC. She advises the defendant to stop making future advertisements in a similar manner. The rest of the complaint is rejected.
The Chairman The Secretary
(signed)  (signed) 
mr N.J. van der Lee mr A.E. de Gelder

Executed by mr N.J. van der Lee, chairman, E. Bolk, mr A.C. van den Boogaard, mr F.W. Obertop en R. Visser, members.

Amsterdam, June 30, 1998


The higher appeal of Greenpeace

Greenpeace did go into higher appeal against the decision of the Commission. They had complaints against three points:
  1. The Commission has unjustly established under point 3 of the decision that the plaintiff has presented several letters and reports to the complaint.
  2. The Commission has unjustly considered that "toxic" gives the impression of an immediate danger for health.

  3. "These toxic toyies" is directly related to the foregoing sentence "that toys made from soft PVC (vinyl) can be harmful for the health of your children." Greenpeace has tried to connect this to what in the daily use of the word "toxic" is meant: dangerous or harmful for health. It is not suggested or said that soft PVC (immediately) can be lethal.
  4. The expression is a part of the social and political debate on the allowance of harmful substances, like phthalates.

  5. By setting the words "These toxic toyies" out of context, and judging negatively these words as such, the Commission is beyond the borders of treaties, the Constitution and jurisprudention in case of the right of freedom of speech and they have limited the freedom of speech of Greenpeace.

The verdict in higher appeal


Dossier 993/98.0189

Decision of the College of Appeal

Complaint 1

The Commissie refers to the pieces the Chlorophiles have brought into the case. That the Commission these - without being specific - had noticed in brief as "letters and reports" is, seen the pieces, not unthrue. The complaint is without ground.

Complaint 2

As not or not enough rejected, the following between parties is factual. To make (baby) toys of the plastic PVC soft and flexible, softeners, so-called phthalates are added. Phthalates are toxic. These materials can leak out of the toys when intensively is sucked or biten and possibly can follow the saliva to enter the body of the child.

Parties differ in opinions about the height of the amounts of phthalates that enter the body and the possible consequences for the health of the child. Following the pieces given by parties, according to the todays science, there is no clear answer to this question.

From recent research, commissioned by the ministery of Public Health, Welfare and Sports, under chair of the Governmental Institute of Public Health and the Environment. it is known that more research is necessary, because no reliable laboratory method is available for the measurement of phthalate release from soft plastics.
From this research it is know too, that from the plastic samples used, the phthalate release only in very rare situations the international guidelines for intake are exceeded (Cfr. RIVM report 613320 002, Phthalate release from soft PVC baby toys, september 1998 [56] and the related press release of the Ministery of VWS d.d. 22 September 1998, nr 82).

Considering these points, the College agrees with the Commission that the sentence "These toxic toyies" for toys made of soft PVC (for the moment) is not right. The indication "toxic" for daily word use means that such toys with certainty are harmful for health. Now that this, like considered herefore, not (yet) is certain, the challenged sentence is misleading in the sense of article 7 NRC. Not withstanding that this sentence is connected to the previous sentence "From research there is evidence that toys made from soft PVC (vinyl) can be harmful for the health of your children." The therein laying nuances are destroyed by the following explicit information "These toxic toyies (...)";.

The complaint fails for that reason.

Complaint 3

The judgement that Greenpeace has infringed article 7 NRC does not lead to a restriction of the freedom of speech as argued by her. This complaint for that reason fails too.

The decision

The College confirms the decision of the Commission.
The chairman The secretary
(signed)  (signed) 
Mr J.M. Vrakking Mr C.C. Jolles
Executed by mr J.M. Vrakking, chairman en mr A.E. Gelderman, R.F.J.H. van Rooij, prof. mr G.M.F. Snijders en mr J.R.A. Schouten, members.

Amsterdam, 15 October 1998.


The lies of Greenpeace

To give you an idea how groups like Greenpeace manipulates their information to the press:
Some time ago in a Flemish newspaper (De Morgen, November 16, 1998) they were interviewed:

Under the title: "Teletubbies are toxic, says Greenpeace":

"... In The Netherlands, Greenpeace had a complaint from the toy industry, after the environmental movement had published an advertisement where was warned for toxic toys, but according to Bloksma [Note: Mienke Bloksma of Greenpeace International], Greenpeace has obtained right for the Advertising Code Commission. The industry has published a report where can be seen that only 1 percent of children can ingest phthalates...".
That are three lies in one and a half sentence. It was not a complaint of the toy industry, but of the Chlorophiles (maybe they don't like to say that workers react on their untruths...). They were convicted by the Advertising Code Commission (RCC) for the sentence "these toxic toys" in their advert, even in higher appeal, as being misleading (maybe they don't like to admit they can lose). And the report mentioned was not from the industry but from the Dutch Consensus Group (Government, industry and consumer organisation [56]), with conclusions that differ completely from those of Greenpeace... (maybe they know that "industry" sounds less reliable).

The RCC urgently requested Greenpeace not to repeat the claim "toxic toys". Look at the title... Is there still somebody who believes them?


You are at level two of the Chlorophiles pages.

Created: July 1, 1998.
Last update: July 16, 2000.

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