Under the pandemic, children have less chance to enjoying the fun of playing outdoors. Instead, they need to stay home for long periods, adding pressure to their learning and development. In such times, toys become their most common playmates which they come into contact with every day. Poppits and squeeze toys have been popular in recent years, as they allow children to relieve stress through kneading and squeezing them. The Consumer Council tested 29 models of plastic toys in the market, amongst which 22 failed to comply with the requirements of EU toy safety standard on mechanical and physical aspect. 15 models were found to have structural safety problems. Under the result of the abuse test (simulating repeated pressing and pulling by children), some small parts and fluid leakage were found. If these small parts or fluids are ingested by accident, they may cause suffocation or other health risks. The findings were extremely undesirable.
Besides, the potential carcinogen (PAH) was found in more than 85% of the tested models. 1 model was not only detected with naphthalene level exceeding the upper limit of the German safety standard by nearly 4 times, but its carcinogen phthalate content also exceeded the Hong Kong regulatory limit by 250 times. Parents are advised to be cautious when selecting toys for their young children. Apart from paying attention to product safety, they should also consider the child’s age and development stage including intelligence and muscle, and to choose the safest and the most appropriate toys for them.
Among the 29 plastic toy models in the test, 8 were stress-relieving silicone toys, 14 were squeeze toys, while 7 were bath toys, bought mainly from stationery shops, baby product shops, toy retailers, and online platforms. Prices ranged from $10 to $159. The Council conducted tests on the safety structure, and mechanical and physical performances of the toys in accordance with standards set out in the EU Toy Safety Directive EN 71-1. Tests on phthalate and PAHs level were also conducted.
Parts Falling Off, Elasticity Too High, and Fluid Leakage
Stress-relieving toys have become very popular in recent years. Almost every child has one, pressing it with their fingers repeatedly and tirelessly. However, test results revealed that under the tension test, all 8 stress-relieving silicone toys would break into small parts. The same happened to 2 bath toys under the tension test for the reasonably foreseeable use or abuse of toys, amongst which the inflation valve of 1 inflatable toy fell off after the test. For 3 squeeze toy models, small parts also fell off in the tension test. If toddlers or children swallow the small parts by accident, there might be airway blockage resulting in suffocation risks. In addition, the elastic constant of 1 squeeze toy model — a yo-yo — exceeded the upper limit of the standard. Children playing with it could be injured by the rebounds of the yo-yo.
Moreover, 3 squeeze toy models were found with fluid leakage after the tension test. Since some of these toys imitate food elements, this could easily cause children to drink the fluid by accident. All the models mentioned above failed to comply with the EU toy safety standard.
3 Models Found with Phthalate DEHP with 1 Exceeding the Upper Limit by 250 Times
As children play with toys for long periods of time, and may even put them into their mouths, both structural and material safety are equally important. Phthalates are often added to PVC plastic materials to increase elasticity and durability. Chemicals such as DEHP and BBP found in the commonly used phthalates, are possibly carcinogenic and may also damage the male reproductive system. Women in contact with DEHP during pregnancy may also affect the development of the foetus. Test results revealed that DEHP was found in 3 models, amongst which the model with the highest levels reached 25%, which was 250 times the upper limit of “Toys and Children’s Products Safety Ordinance”. At the same time, this squeeze toy was detected with BBP at a concentration of 0.06%, while another bath toy model was detected with BBP at concentrations of 0.006% to 0.028%. The Council has already submitted the test results and product information to the Customs and Excise Department for follow-up.
Over 85% Models Detected with Potential Carcinogen PAHs
Apart from phthalate, PAHs are also impurities commonly found in plastics, rubbers, and lubricating oils, mainly causing harm to the human respiratory tract and skin. Many PAHs are confirmed or potential carcinogens. Based on requirements of the German voluntary certification scheme GS Mark, the Council examined whether the models contained the 15 restricted PAHs. Results showed that PAHs were found in more than 85% (25) of the models, among which 2 had naphthalene levels exceeding the upper limit of the German safety standard by almost 4 to 11 times. According to the EU directive on chemical classification, naphthalene is classified as Category 2 carcinogenic and of Category 4. Naphthalene is also volatile and can be inhaled through breathing. Currently in Hong Kong, there has been no upper limit of PAHs set for toys and children’s products. The Council recommends authorities to further enhance the safety requirements for children’s products, making reference to relevant international standards and regulations. At the same time, manufacturers are also responsible for trying their best to lower the PAH levels of their products in order to safeguard children’s health.