Hazardous chemicals found in popular toys

| 31st August 2018
Squishies come in all shapes and sizes and have become a craze with children.

Squishies come in all shapes and sizes and have become a craze with children.

Flickr (Creative Commons)
“Squishies” – soft foam toys which have become a craze due to their squeeziness and scent – have been banned in Denmark after government tests found high levels of harmful substances.

When all twelve toys contain high amounts of harmful substances, alarm bells begin to go off.  This indicates that there may be an overall problem with all squishies on the market.

Tests on “squishy” toys have found high levels of hazardous chemicals, which can impair fertility, act as carcinogens, cause liver damage, and irritate the mucous membrane or eyes.

The tests were carried out by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency on 12 squishy toys, all of which were found to emit high levels of harmful substances, including dimethylformamide, styrene and toluene. These could harm children who sleep with their squishies or have several of them in their bedroom, the agency said.

The toys have been withdrawn from the shelves in Denmark, but the country’s environment minister has called into question the health implications of all squishies, and asked the toy industry to take action.

“When all twelve toys contain high amounts of harmful substances, alarm bells begin to go off.  This indicates that there may be an overall problem with all squishies on the market.

“All distributors and importers should take their responsibility seriously and remove all squishes from their shelves. They should not be returned to shelves until it can be documented that they do not emit chemicals that may be harmful to children”, said Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, Danish minister for environment and food.

Safety regime

The toys breach the EU Toy Safety Directive, which all EU member states are bound by. The Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark has confirmed that it passed the test results to all EU countries via the European Commission, and that it and the EPA are talking to authorities in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands about the issue. The UK government has not been in contact, it said.

BEIS, which regulates product safety in the UK through its agency the Office for Product Safety and Standards, did not respond specifically to a request for comment on the Danish ban, but said the UK standards were among the toughest in the world and allowed only the safest products onto the market.

However, Michael Warhurst, executive director of campaign group Chem Trust, said that the consumer safety regime in the UK was “very patchy” in regards to chemicals. “Everything depends on cash-strapped local authority environmental health officers taking samples and paying for analysis, after which they can take action and notify the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) if anything illegal is found. It is extraordinary that consumer protection is such a low priority for the UK government,” he said.

“Flimsy” research

Toy trade body Toy Industries of Europe (TIE) criticised the Danish authorities’ decision to ban the toys, and claimed that its research was “flimsy” as it used an inaccurate methodology and only assessed 12 toys.

“This small study should not have been used as the basis to determine whether squishy toys pose a risk to children and are compliant with EU Toy Safety Rules,” TIE said in a statement.

“We have consulted three independent toxicologists on the draft report, who find that the study ignores the accepted EU testing standards and disregards common understanding of children’s risk of exposure to chemical substances. They find the report’s conclusions are ill-founded and the resulting claims about the safety of squishy toys are unjustified,” it said.

Decisions to ban toys should be made in consultation with the EU’s scientific expert groups and not taken unilaterally by a single member state, it added.

It has raised concerns with the European Commission, and asked it to remind all member states to follow processes set out in the EU Toy Safety Directive if changes should be made.

But Warhust said: “Denmark has very experienced and active chemical regulators, so I would be surprised if there was a problem with the tests”.

Meanwhile, Wolverhampton City Council has seized 2,000 fake squishies after tests found “alarming” health and safety risks to young children. It tested them for phthalates – chemicals used to make plastics more flexible, but that are partially restricted in the EU for health concerns.

Although these tests were negative, they also found dangerous faults in the packaging, labelling and lack of warning labels required by law. The CE markings – which indicate conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the EU – were found to be fake.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76

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