Over 100 potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

Erika Armanino reports on concerning research that gives us yet another reason to re-evaluate our relationship with plastic

Erika Armanino
15th March 2021
Image Credit: Markus Spiske
New research suggests that more than 100 chemicals found in plastic toy materials may pose possible health risks to children.

A new international study called ‘Chemicals of concern in plastic toys’ has found 126 potentially harmful substances that could impact on children’s health.

Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark and the University of Michigan, together with UN Environment, have looked into plastic toys' compositions, analysing chemical functions and quantifying related children exposure and potential health risks.

Chemicals of potential concern include phthalates, brominated flame retardants and two plasticisers

Analysing and studying data from 25 peer-reviewed studies, the research team constructed a list of chemicals of concern, ranked in terms of risk prioritisation.

Chemicals identified to be a possible concern for children’s health include phthalates and brominated flame retardants and two plasticisers called butyrate TXIB and citrate ATBC.

The study found that children in Western countries have on average 18 kilograms of plastic toys, which underlines the amount of plastic children are surrounded by every day.

Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A wide range of chemical additives are used in plastic products, including children’s toys, to obtain or optimise specific product properties, such as material hardness or elasticity. According to the researchers, while laws in many countries regulate the use of certain toxic substances, there is not a consistent approach internationally. The current international laws don’t fully cover a chemical's restriction regarding plastic toys or products.

Research suggests the quality of a child's play is negatively influenced by the abundance of toys

Peter Fankte, one of the authors of the paper, said “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.”

Image Credit: krakenimages on Unsplash

What the researchers found to diminish exposure to chemicals, is a reduction of the amount of toys introduced into households. This was also supported by another study that found that the quality of a child's play is negatively influenced by the abundance of toys, and that less toys may help toddlers to focus better and play more creatively.

For parents, it will continue to be difficult to avoid using plastic toys until there are be more international laws for the chemicals contained in them. What the researches advise for parents is to try to avoid plastic products in general and to ventilate their children’s rooms regularly on a daily basis.

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