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Potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

Regulations and labelling schemes are different across regions and countries, and there is no international agreement on which substances should be banned from use in toy materials. For the most part, regulations and international lists of 'chemicals of concern' in toys focus on certain substance groups with known harmful properties, such as phthalates, but do not cover the wider range of chemicals found in plastic toys.

Researchers from DTU and the University of Michigan together with UN Environment have looked into this important issue, analyzed data on chemical functions and amounts found in plastic toys, and quantified related children exposure and potential health risks. They ranked the chemicals according to their health risk and compared these results with existing priority substances lists from around the world. 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 Aurisano, the study's first author and Peter's PhD student, explains that toy manufacturers usually do not provide any information on the chemical content in the toys, and toy composition databases are missing. Hence, the researchers had to collect and scrutinize information on chemicals contents in toy materials based on chemical test data for specific toys reported in 25 different peer-reviewed studies.

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