Checking out plasticizers in toys
To what extent do chemicals leach out when small children chew on toys made of PVC? Tests to check this problem are on their way.
A great deal of toys, particularly soft toys for very small children, are still made of polyvinyl chloride. PVC itself is a relatively stable plastic whose use does not involve any risk, but in its pure form it is hard, which makes it unsuitable for soft cuddly toys. On the other hand, PVC is cheap and durable, and toy manufacturers have solved the hardness problem by mixing it with other chemicals known as plasticizers. Softened PVCs may contain as much as 40 percent plasticizers.
For many years, phthalate esters were used for this purpose, but when the suspicion arose that these might act as hormone inhibitors, the maximum permitted content of phthalates in Europe was set at 0.1%, which meant in practice that they were forbidden. Phthalate esters have now been replaced by adipate and citrate esters, which are believed to present less of a hazard.
“We have particularly focused on toys aimed at children less than three years old”, says project manager Oddvar Ringstad. “These children are reckoned to be most exposed to the potential dangers of plasticizers because they bite and suck their toys. What we want to know now is how much of the new plasticizers leach out when toys are sucked and chewed. Depending on the manufacturing process involved and the presence of other additives such as pigments, etc., plasticizers leaching from PVCs can vary widely. It is essential to be aware of these variations in case we need to set maximum limits in the future on what a child is able to ingest.
As part of a European project called “Migratoys”, SINTEF, in collaboration with the research institutes AIJU in Spain, ITC in the Czech Republic and IISG in Italy, as well as the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, has developed a test procedure for PVC toys that incorporate new types of plasticizers. The results of the project will be presented to the other members of the EU in the near future, after which a number of other laboratories will trial the tests. The important thing is that analyses of identical products should produce identical results no matter which laboratory has performed them. When the analytical procedure has been approved, it will become a CEN standard for testing PVC toys in the EU in the future.
Contact: Ferdinand Männle tel: (+47) 98282491 or Oddvar Ringstad, Molab