Scientists find over 100 harmful substances in plastic children’s toys

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  • Scientist have long been concerned with the chemicals in plastic toys
  • A global study has revealed which substances can be found in such toys
  • It turns out many of these chemicals are harmful to humans

Environmental scientists have for long been concerned with the chemical composition of items we use every day and how they can affect our health, especially that of young children.  

Now, a large global study has validated these concerns, indicating that plastic toys contain do in fact contain chemicals that pose a health risk to children.

Assessing the chemical composition of toys

A team of researchers assessed the chemical composition of various toys and calculated the approximate levels at which humans are exposed to these chemicals. The researchers drew up a list of chemicals they identified as “Chemicals of Concern”, and found that over 100 of these were present in plastics used in the production of toys.

“Out of 419 chemicals found in hard, soft, and foam plastic materials used in children toys, we identified 126 substances that can potentially harm children's health either via cancer or non-cancer effects, including 31 plasticisers, 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances,” explained researcher Peter Fantke.

The researchers expressed that many countries have laws governing the use of chemicals that could be harmful in toys, but these are inconsistent internationally. 

“Existing regulations usually focus on particular chemicals (e.g., phthalates, brominated flame retardants, and metals), while currently not covering the broad range of chemical substances that are found in plastic toys.”

Highlighting the dangers of chemicals in children’s toys

The team drew up a list of chemical contents of toys in order to express the depth of the issue – something which manufacturers of these products neglect to do. They also looked at data from other peer-reviewed studies, and then ranked their list of chemicals according to the potential risk they pose to humans. 

“We have combined the reported chemical content in toy materials with material characteristics and toy use patterns, such as how long a child typically plays with a toy, whether it puts it into the mouth, and how many toys are found in a household per child,” first author Nicolò Aurisano said. 

“We used this information to estimate exposure using high-throughput mass-balance models, and compared exposure doses with doses below which there is no unacceptable risk to the children.”

Overall, the researchers found 27 substances whose use is regulated, but still turned up in samples of toys tested. They further identified 17 substances, which are not on the chemicals of concern list, but can also be hazardous to human health. 

“Since the same chemicals can be found in different concentrations across toy materials, we have estimated the 'maximum acceptable chemical content' for all the substances reported to be found in plastic toys,” Fantke said.

“Such information will enable decision-makers to develop benchmarks for various chemicals in different applications, but will also help toy companies to evaluate the amount of chemicals used for a specific function against such benchmarks.”

Image credit: Unsplash

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