Monday, December 28, 2015

The EU restricts the contents of chemistry sets?

Adrian Dingle's review of the MEL chemistry kits inspired an interesting conversation between Adrian and the CEO of MEL, Vassili Philippov. According to Mr. Philippov, the contents (and amounts) of chemistry kits sold within the European Union are designated by EU regulations. Here's a link to the list, and here's the seemingly relevant statement in the regulations: 
...Only the chemical substances, mixtures and indicators given in Table 1 and Table 2 may be supplied in chemistry sets or in a supplementary set for a chemistry set up to the amounts and concentrations specified in those tables. 
The quality of the chemicals used should be appropriate for the experiments described. In particular, the chemicals should not contain impurities or substances that allow undefined and dangerous reactions to occur. 
Apart from its presence in tincture of iodine, denatured alcohol (ethanol) shall not be supplied in a chemistry set. However, where experiments contained in the instructions of a chemistry set require it, the use of denatured alcohol may be suggested in the instructions....
So. Dumb American question: is this really true?!? Does the EU actually restrict the contents of chemistry sets? What kind of restriction is this, anyway? Is this something where, if you sell it, the EU tells you to stop selling it? or is this more of a suggestion? Readers, any ideas?

(I don't really think there are any rules in the US about the contents of chemistry sets (although it appears that the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls a fair number of them) although it is clear that, if you put really toxic substances in a children's chemistry set, you'll probably be sued out of existence.)

(This is also one of those things where Americans tend not to really understand how EU regulations actually govern things within the EU, etc., etc. Sorry.) 


  1. If the goal was to "detoxify" the sets they missed the ball with the tincture of iodine. It was a favorite poison for suicide attempts before WWII. It wasn't very lethal, but the survivors had nasty side effects.

  2. I wonder if the tincture is more or less easily absorbed than the pure crystal form. Say, 1 gram of iodine crystals versus 20 mL of tincture - which would present less of a risk?

  3. >> Is this something where, if you sell it, the EU tells you to stop selling it?
    I think it's more like you won't even be able to legally sell it in the first place. All that's aimed at children is regulated super-strictly in the EU. Although I don't understand how it coexists with designer drugs market.
    And suing in EU might be challenging, they are still different countries with different legal systems.

  4. The EU regulates everything. Even your soul.

    AFAIK lastpook is right: you can't legally sell it in the first place. Parents in UK know to always buy things with the EU quality sticker on (I might be outdated; a while since I was a kid) ;) and shops (I think) can't sell things otherwise. If you buy online, caveat emptor, though.

  5. My guess is that in this case "EU approval" for the kit would be like "FDA approval" for a drug in the US. You need the approval before it goes on the market.

    This is one of those cultural barrier things when I'm surprised that Americans are surprised that we might seek to regulate what goes into children's toys...

  6. I'm surprised they even have denatured alcohol in Europe - I thought it was an American thing caused by Prohibition, and kept alive by hysteria about underage drinking (which isn't a big deal in pretty much any other country).

    I always wondered why they don't just add something unpleasant-tasting instead of toxic - the punishment for drinking the stuff is completely disproportionate to the crime.

    1. Denaturating agents are not only supposed to make it taste unpleasant, but also to make it impossible to re-distill it. It's for tax purposes.

  7. @KT: they do (add something unpleasant-tasting instead of toxic to ethanol) here in UK, but it still does not deter the most thirsty individuals. Even hand-sanitizing gel has to be guarded in some places ;)

  8. I wasn't surprised at the EU regulation per se (since to me, it seems like commonsense to regulate chemicals given to children), but I would be surprised if something similar didn't exist here in the US.

  9. Do you mean you don't have some similar regulation in the US, where the popcorn bags instructions tell you to open the hot bag while keeping it away from your face? ;)