French parents sue government to make it disclose nappy brands containing toxic chemicals

Parents’ groups are suing the French government in a bid to force it to name brands of babies’ nappies that contain dangerous chemicals.

France’s national health agency, Anses, said in January that it had found traces of potentially toxic chemicals in disposable babies’ nappies that exceeded safety limits, but the brands concerned have never been named by the authorities.

Parents and the Child Health Association campaign group filed a joint lawsuit on Tuesday before France’s highest court, the Council of State.

They said they had written to the Health Ministry two months ago, asking for the names of the brands concerned, but never received a response.

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Quentin Guillemain, a parent involved in the action, said: “We’re also asking for the withdrawal of dangerous nappies and better information for parents. This is a health emergency.” 

Tests detected the presence of substances such as hydrocarbons, dioxins and perfumes at levels potentially dangerous to health. The controversial weedkiller glyphosate was also found, but in smaller quantities. 

The government ordered manufacturers to take measures to eliminate the substances or reduce them as much as possible.

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Some of the chemicals were added intentionally but others are believed to have been introduced from contaminated materials during the manufacturing process.

A lawyer acting for the parents, Corinne Lepage, who served as environment minister in the conservative government of President Jacques Chirac, criticised the authorities’ lack of transparency: “Parents aren’t sure of the products they are buying. This is not normal.”

Loïc Tanguy, an official in the government’s consumer protection department, said the authorities were reluctant to name brands because the health agency had not analysed all of them and the tests, which were carried out two years ago, may no longer be valid.

“Blaming one brand will make people think that another is better, when it may be that the other one has not been analysed,” he said.

Mr Tanguy said new tests had been started and a list of brands found to contain dangerous chemicals would be made public by the end of the year.

In January, the health agency, Anses, called for rapid action in view of the potential danger to infants but Agnès Buzyn, the health minister, said there was “no serious or immediate risk” and parents could continue using disposable nappies. 

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