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Circular economy could expose children to hazardous phthalates and chlorinated paraffins via old toys and childcare articles

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- Phthalates and SCCPs were found in children's toys at levels exceeding legal limits.

- Toxicants were found more often and at higher concentrations in older items.

- Policy regulations can be useful instruments in preventing children's exposure.

- Hazardous chemicals can hinder safe re-use and recycling of materials.


The European waste framework directive encourages reuse, refurbishment and recycling of products and materials in order to reduce plastic waste. However, thousands of chemicals are used in plastic materials. Many of these are potentially toxic, and may cause hormonal and developmental disruption in children. This includes phthalates and short chain chlorinated paraffins, which are used as plasticizers and flame-retardants. European legal frameworks regulate the amounts of these substances in toys in an effort to protect children's health and safety. Currently, limits are set to 0.1% for phthalates and 0.15% for SCCPs. Here, we have investigated levels of these compounds in toys and childcare products that were purchased prior to and after legislation on stricter exposure levels was implemented (total of 157 items, 54 and 103 new and old, respectively). We found that a larger portion of older toys and items (83.5%) contained amounts that exceed legal limits, compared to newer toys and items (29.6%). Concentrations of DEHP, BBP, DIDP, and SCCPs were significantly higher in old items, and both DEHP and DINP were found at concentrations exceeding 400,000 mg/kg in several old balls, which is approximately 40% of the weight of the toy, and 400 times above the legal limit. These findings indicate that old toys have the potential to pose a greater risk to children, and that regulations can be useful tools to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals. We also stress that the waste framework directive, which urges reuse and repurposing of objects such as second hand items used for dress-up play, can lead to continued exposure via chemicals in older items. We conclude that movement towards circular economy threatens to expose children from legacy compounds already restricted on the market if efforts are not made to remove these items from circulation.



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