Findings by the Customs Laboratory in 2017: Phthalates in toys, appropriate sulphur content in fuels

20.4.2018 8.00
Press release

The Finnish Customs Laboratory that turned 110 years in 2017 conducts examinations for protecting consumers and the environment, ensuring appropriate customs clearance and enforcement, and for assisting Customs and the Police in investigations into suspected customs offences. Laboratory examinations also serve other authorities such as the Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes).

In 2017, the Customs Laboratory examined a total of 14 431 samples. Most of the samples, 55 %, were related to suspected customs offences. These samples were followed by foodstuffs (22 %), consumer goods (11 %) and fuels (7 %). 

Increase in the number of examinations relating to customs offences

In 2017, the Customs Laboratory examined 7 946 samples related to customs offences, which marked an increase of 4 % in comparison with 2016 when the Laboratory examined 7 597 samples. Most samples were taken from postal and freight consignments ordered through the Internet. The majority of samples that were analysed in laboratory examinations contained psychoactive substances banned from the consumer market, such as amphetamine, MDMA, LSD, α-PVP and cocaine.

The Customs Laboratory improved its analysis capabilities in 2017 by acquiring a new Condensed Phase GC-FTIR device which enables a secure identification of new narcotics in investigations by Customs and the Police. The Customs Laboratory received EU funding for the acquisition from the Internal Security Fund (ISF).

Examinations of foodstuffs: Most defects detected in vegetables and food contact materials

The Customs Laboratory examined 3 192 plant-based samples pertaining to the safety and regulation compliance of foodstuffs. Most examinations involved fruit and fruit products (617 consignments), as well as fresh fruit and vegetable products (556 consignments).

Very few defects were detected in fresh fruit and vegetable products. Defects were present in only 5 % of products originating in non-EU territories, and in 7 % of products from the EU territory. However, the presence of pesticides in several pomegranate and okra consignments was an exceptional occurrence.

— Pesticides such as thiacloprid, acetamiprid and phosmet were found in seven consignments of pomegranates that originated in Turkey, Spain and Egypt, says head of section Suvi Ojanperä of the Customs Laboratory. – Pesticides were also found in a consignment of okra that originated in Thailand, and in five consignments of okra that arrived from Pakistan. There was a relatively extensive presence of pesticides in these consignments.

Altogether 37 % of the examined vegetables and vegetable products from outside the EU had defects, in contrast with only 10 % of products that originated in the EU. A total of 98 consignments contained for example salmonella, pesticides, heavy metals, and had insufficient package markings.

The highest percentage of defects involved special diet foodstuffs, such as dietary supplements. Of the 80 examined dietary supplement products, 71 % of non-EU origin were defective. Of products that arrived in Finland from the rest of the EU territory, 57 % were defective. Examinations revealed, for example, nutrients and compounds classified as medicinal products or novel foods.

— As for examinations of food contact materials, the Laboratory found defects in just over 20 % of materials that originated both in the EU and in non-EU territories. A total of 99 products were found to be defective, says head of division Arja Meriläinen. — Examinations uncovered for example heavy metals and harmful substances.

Food contact materials include ceramic, plastic and silicone dishware, household supplies, tableware and packaging materials. The Customs Laboratory examined 419 samples of food contact materials.

Examinations of consumer goods: Phthalates in toys, loose batteries in fidget spinners

Controls of consumer goods covered 1 539 consumer items meant for personal use. Most of these were toys (604 products), textiles, footwear, accessories (468 products) and cosmetics (146 products).

About 30 % of toys both from inside and outside the EU were defective. Examinations uncovered for example defective warning labels and CE markings, phthalates and other harmful substances, as well as mechanical faults.  

- Fidget spinners were a new toy trend last year. The problem with them is that they contain small batteries that may come loose, says physicist Mikko Kontiainen

- Plastic toys are still found to contain phthalate plasticizers. Especially toys made of PVC are problematic, says head of section Arja Meriläinen.

Phthalates have been found to disrupt hormone activity.

Of the examined textile and leather products, footwear and accessories, the Customs Laboratory found defects in 10 % of non-EU products (433 examined consignments) and in 37 % of EU products (35 examined consignments). Examinations revealed harmful substances such as chromium 6 which is a human carcinogen, as well as insufficient package markings.

Of the examined cosmetics products, defects were found in 55 % of non-EU products and in 35 % of EU products. Examinations revealed for example defective warning labels, package markings, ingredients and CE markings.

The highest percentage of defects was found in candle products and child care products. Of altogether 16 examined candle products, 11 items (69 %) had defects, for example in their composition and markings. The Customs Laboratory examined 62 consignments of child care supplies, 47 % of which were defective in terms of markings, among other things. They also contained harmful substances.  

Sulphur contents of fuels in order

The Customs Laboratory examines fuel samples taken at distribution points, warehouses, and directly from fuel tanks of vehicles and boats. Examinations and controls serve to protect the environment from liquid fuel emissions by ensuring the quality and regulation compliance of fuels. 

In 2017, altogether 97 % of the 985 fuel examinations by the Customs Laboratory focused on quality controls of liquid fuels, and 3 % of the examinations involved controls of fuel oil use.

Samples were taken in various locations in Finland of 95E10 petrol, BE 98E5 petrol, diesel fuel, and heating oils. The examinations confirmed that all the sampled fuels sold in distribution points in Finland were sulphur-free.

The Customs Laboratory examined fuel samples taken by authorities by analysing dyes and markers. Controls of fuel use uncovered 28 cases where low-tax fuel was used illegally in diesel engines in road and boat traffic.

Defects in citrus fruit detected in plant controls

Finnish Customs also carried out 2 947 plant health controls and regulation compliance controls on vegetables. The controls were carried for preventing the entry of plant enemies to Finland and the rest of the EU, and to ensure the correct quality and classification of plants.

Finnish Customs carried out a physical regulation compliance control on 692 consignments of citrus fruit from outside the EU. Altogether 62 consignments were rejected in the controls. Of the rejected consignments, only one had to be destroyed. Four consignments were placed in a lower quality category, and the other consignments were released into the market after improvements. Most rejections involved Egyptian oranges due to surface defects and spoilage.

In the internal EU market, Finnish Customs carried out physical regulation compliance controls on 913 consignments of vegetables. No defects were observed in the controls.

Information on the Customs Laboratory at tulli.fi (in Finnish).

The Customs Laboratory takes part in the Child Fair at the Helsinki Exhibition & Convention Centre from 20 to 22 April 2018. The public will have access to, for example, demonstrations of nickel testing and sound level measurements, as well as product items examined by the Customs Laboratory.

Press Release