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Survey of Harmful Monomers in Toys and Risk Assessment of 3D Pens for Children

As Hong Kong traders active in the toy industry may know, plastic toys sometimes contain monomers, some of which are hazardous to health and even classified as carcinogenic. In 2010, the EU’s Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (“SCHER”) assessed that no carcinogens ought to be present in toys as intentionally added substances. Subsequently, the European Association for the Coordination of Consumer Representation in Standardisation suggested some lower limits for a selection of five monomers. This suggestion for a restriction on monomers could lead to a ban on several plastic and rubber materials in toys.

To fully understand the need and consequences of this potential ban, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published a survey in February 2019 which highlights the migration of relevant monomers under different conditions.

The survey examined which plastic and rubber materials are used in toys, and focused in particular on the five monomers suggested for restriction, namely: (i) vinyl chloride, (ii) butadiene, (iii) acrylonitrile, (iv) acrylamide, and (v) styrene. By studying these monomers, the survey assessed whether a possible migration of monomers from toys can constitute a health risk for children playing with the toy. The scope of the survey paralleled that of the suggested restriction and thus targeted toys for children aged 0-3 years, which are intended to be placed in the mouth.

The survey found that the most common materials used are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which is an opaque thermoplastic and amorphous polymer, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene (PS). Based on these materials, the study focused in particular on four of the five monomers. In total, 30 different toy materials were analysed, coming from a minimum of 18 different producers/importers of toys. Out of these 30 materials, seven were purchased in Denmark or through Danish websites, four products were ordered directly from mainland China via a web-shop, and the rest were received from European producers of toys.

Following this selection, specific migration analyses were performed to simulate different scenarios, such as the child placing the toy in the mouth, the toy being swallowed or the toy being held for extended periods of time. The analyses were conducted for ABS and PS toy materials. The result was that no migration from any of the monomers was identified. The study also examined recycled materials and found that the industrial waste version of ABS and PS did not contain or release higher concentrations of monomers than the new product of ABS and PS.

The main take-away from this study is that the migration of monomers for the “exposure” scenario from the examined toy materials will not constitute a health risk for any of the examined monomers (acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene in particular) or any of the examined toy materials (specifically ABS, PVS, and PS). When the toy is in the mouth, an “acceptable” migration from the toy material was observed, meaning that they constitute a minimum health effect for children. For acrylonitrile specifically, further analyses need to be conducted to determine whether a possible risk exists.
Hong Kong traders should take note that acrylonitrile is the principal monomer which could be affected by a potential ban. Given its presence in ABS, this type of material could, in future, be banned from being used in toys for children below the age of 3.

In other news concerning articles that can be handled by children, the Danish EPA also released a survey that looked at 3D pens specifically, since this market is expected to increase. The survey had three aims:

  • Acquire greater knowledge of the specific chemical substances in the materials used for 3D pens;
  • Understand how children can expect to be exposed to the substances when using a 3D pen; and
  • Decide whether selected substances pose a health risk.

The survey focused on 3D pens available on the Danish market and three different types of existing techniques: (i) the material cures with UV lighting, (ii) the material hardens when the temperature is reduced, and (iii) the material hardens in the course of time. The age group targeted here was 5-18 years. Given this older age group, the study focused particularly on the effects of the chemicals through skin contact and inhalation, rather than oral intake.

Based on initial tests, the study focused on four substances: (i) acrylic acid, (ii) n-butyl methacrylate, (iii) styrene (which appeared in general toys as well), and (iv) vanillin. The study found that styrene is not expected to pose a risk. For acrylic acid and n-butyl methacrylate, there might be cause for concern if certain threshold values were exceeded. Finally, for vanillin, dermal exposure could be above the generally acceptable threshold value but it is expected that a certain amount of it will be retained in the material itself. As such, none of the substances studied seem to pose a health risk in the 3D pen.

Since the study focused on exposure to the chemical substances, it did not consider problems related to particle generation and did not carry out emission measures. Future projects could focus on this and further analyse additional substances or the combination effects that exposure to several chemical substances can have.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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