Researchers from DTU and the University of Michigan together with UN Environment have analyzed data on chemical functions and amounts found in plastic toys. Their study analyzed data on chemical functions and amounts found in plastic toys.
The study has been published with open access in the journal Environment International.
“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 plasticizers, 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances. Being harmful in our study means that for these chemicals, estimated exposure doses exceed regulatory Reference Doses (RfD) or cancer risks exceed regulatory risk thresholds. These substances should be prioritized for phase-out in toy materials and replaced with safer and more sustainable alternatives,” says Peter Fantke, Professor at DTU Management and the study’s principle investigator.
Nicolò further states: “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. 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.”
The researchers find that children in Western countries have on average about 18 kilograms of plastic toys, which underlines the large amounts of plastic that children are surrounded by on a daily basis.
Chemicals that the researchers identified to be of possible concern for children’s health include, for example, widely known phthalates and brominated flame retardants but also the two plasticizers butyrate TXIB and citrate ATBC, which are used as alternatives to some regulated phthalates.
“These alternatives showed indications for high non-cancer risk potentials in exposed children and should be further assessed to avoid ‘regrettable substitutions’, where one harmful chemical is replaced with a similarly harmful alternative. Overall, soft plastics cause higher exposure to certain harmful chemicals, and inhalation exposure dominates overall children exposure, because children potentially inhale chemicals diffusing out of all toys in the room, while usually only touching one toy at the time,” Peter Fantke explains.
Many lists exist that inform about ‘chemicals of concern’ across product and material applications. However, what is currently missing is any information about the levels at which the use of chemicals in the different applications would be safe and sustainable. Here, the researchers introduce a new metric to benchmark chemical contents in toy materials based on exposure and risk.
Peter Fantke explains: “Since the same chemicals can be found in different concentrations across toy materials, we have estimated the ‘maximum acceptable chemical content (MACC)’ for all the substances reported to be found in plastic toys. 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.”