• The United Nations Environment Programme governing council has agreed to launch negotiations on a global legal agreement to control the supply and use of mercury. Negotiations will begin next year, with final adoption planned for 2013.  
  • The European Commission recently announced that there were 1,545 alerts for dangerous consumer products in 2008 through the EU RAPEX system, compared with 1,355 in 2007. The 2008 RAPEX report containing these and many more results will be presented by Commissioner Kuneva on 20 April.  
  • The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published an information sheet on risk management in relation to the manufacture and manipulation of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), in response to emerging evidence about the toxicology of these materials. According to the document, the HSE views CNTs as substances of very high concern. It calls for the adoption of a precautionary approach to the risk management of all CNTs and for effective measures to be taken in the workplace to prevent exposure where use is unavoidable.  
  • The French government recently proposed a bill to curb mobile phone use by children. If it is adopted, it would prohibit any advertisements encouraging children under the age of 12 to use mobile phones and would set new radiological emissions limits.  
  • The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued a precautionary drug alert about batches of a meningitis vaccine manufactured by Novartis, following the identification of a sterility issue with the solvent used in the vaccination. A precautionary recall was undertaken by the manufacturer after tests suggested that samples from the same batch did not pass sterility tests under varying air pressure. No evidence of any risk to UK patients has been identified.  
  • The German Association of Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists (HNO) has reported that hearing problems associated with old age are now being seen in the 16 to 20-year-old age group as a result of the use of personal music players. It has called on manufacturers of the devices to inform consumers of the risk and to modify product designs. The HNO also called for a reduction in the 100-decibel limit for portable audio devices placed on the market in the EU. The warning comes after the EU scientific committee on emerging and newly identified health risks identified late last year that listening to personal music players at high volume over a sustained period may lead to permanent hearing damage. The Commission is now examining possible measures that could be taken better to protect young people from excessive noise exposure. In January, it organised a one-day stakeholders’ conference on personal music players, to consider precautions that may be taken by consumers, technical solutions that may be adopted by industry and whether there is a need for further regulation in this regard.  
  • A new Product Liability Act came into force in Thailand at the end of February. Under the Act, all ‘operators’ will be jointly and severally liable for any damage arising from unsafe products sold to consumers. A product that has caused injury to a consumer is presumed to be unsafe unless the operator can prove otherwise. The Act provides for the award of punitive damages if the operator knew or was grossly negligent in not knowing that a product it had placed on the market was unsafe and it failed to take appropriate corrective action.