Scientists Find Loads of Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Health Risks for Kids

A group of scientists have now analyzed data on chemical functions and amounts found in plastic toys, and quantified related children exposure and potential health risks. Because toy manufacturers usually do not provide any information on the chemical content in the toys, and toy composition databases are missing, 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. The researchers ranked the chemicals according to their health risk and compared these results with existing priority substances lists from around the world.

Study Findings Overview

“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.”

-Dr. Peter Fantke, Professor, DTU Management and the study’s principle investigator

Other Findings

The researchers found 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 (PBDEs) but also the two plasticizers butyrate TXIB and citrate ATBC, which are used as alternatives to some regulated phthalates.

“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.”

-Dr. Peter Fantke, Professor, DTU Management and the study’s principle investigator

What should parents do to reduce their child’s exposure to these toxic chemicals of concern?

The researchers recommend that parents:

(1) Reduce the consumption of plastic materials in general

(2) Avoid the use of soft plastic toys

(3) Ventilate your children’s rooms well every day


Journal Reference:  Nicolò Aurisano, Lei Huang, Llorenç Milà i Canals, Olivier Jolliet, Peter Fantke. Chemicals of concern in plastic toys. Environment International, 2021; 146: 106194 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.106194


Post: Eric