Ordered off the shelves in parts of Europe; all is quiet in the U.S.
I actually love these mats. They were great to give some cushion to a crawling baby or unsteady toddler. I was even going to do a post on these being must-haves. Then a couple weeks ago I received news from family and friends in Europe that these were pulled off the market in Belgium and now France because they leached ammonia and a formamide, a a toxic chemical. Other EU countries are expected to follow suit. Not surprisingly, while this was headline news in Europe, it barely registered in the US other than on a couple of blogs. I must say that I take all consumer petitions and outcries with a pinch of salt, but when you actually have a government entity admitting to it, then I take notice. So I did some additional research to see what this was all about before chucking them to the curb.
It all started a year ago in Belgium
Back in October 2009 Test-Achat (www.test-achats.be), an independent Consumer-Reports-like tester and researcher in Belgium, conducted a series of tests on these popular foam children’s floor coverings made of EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) (consumer associations in Italy, Portugal and Spain had also taken up this issue) . The great majority of the brands of mats tested contained and, more importantly, leached or emanated formamide, a chemical used to make the tiles soft and bendable and is a known toxic substance. According to Test Achat and other news reports, formamide is harmful to reproduction and fetal development in addition to being an eye and skin irritant. It turns out the mats – especially new ones – emanate various toxins including ammonia and the said formamide. As you can imagine, babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to begin with, are right on top of these things and tend to put everything in their mouths. Test Achat put out an an alert and notified the applicable Belgian government agency about its findings.
December 2010: pulled off the market in Belgium…followed by France
As governments go, Belgium is about as slow as everyone else. They chose to consider Test Achat’s claims (which in itself is impressive) and conduct their own testing across more than 30 brands of these EVA foam mats. On December 11 2010, they announced that their findings concurred with Test Achat’s and moved to pull all the products off of the market. Of the more than 30 brands tested by the government, all but a couple leached or emanated toxic chemicals. A few days later, the French followed suit and ordered all the same products off the market for three months while they conducted their own tests.
For you French speakers, here’s the story on the Belgian national news.
You can watch the piece on the French national news here.
What are the risks?
The toxic substances found include:
- ammonia and
- formamide which, according to Wikipedia, in its chemical (pure) form is:
highly corrosive on contact with skin or eyes and may be deadly if ingested. Inhalation of large amounts of formamide vapor may require medical attention.It is also a teratogen. Formamide should never be handled without proper safety attire including gloves and goggles. There is a small risk of decompostion into hydrogen cyanide and water.
Each of these could be inhaled or ingested (we all know everything goes into baby’s mouth, don’t we).
Health Risks include:
- eye and skin irritation
- reproduction problems
- fetal development problems
- potential cancer risks
So what now?
The French and Belgian authorities have ordered these products taken off the shelves and counseled consumers to remove them from their homes or at least put them away pending confirmation and technical backup by each of the manufacturers that their products do not contain any of these toxic products. It looks like most of them do and it would not be obvious by looking at the packaging anyway. The formamide is used to make them soft and pliable any alternative method to achieve the same result is more expensive. As always, looks like it all comes down to cost! If you know who manufactured your playmats (or check with your retailer), you can ask them directly. If you’re like me and can’t remember where you got them from, that’s another problem.
The reports note that the biggest risk is when the mats are new. Over time, the formamide and other gases dissipate into the air (after we’ve inhaled them of course!). What do you do if you are like this parent and have had the mats for over a year now? There’s a fair chance it’s all dissipated by now… but do you really still want your child rolling around these mats at this point? I think we’ll be buying a nice carpet for the rug-rat.
Use of formamide in toys to be banned across the European Union by 2013 anyway
Formamide, it turns out, isn’t exactly a new comer to consumer safety discussion table. It’s on the list of chemicals to be banned from use in children’s products across the European Union starting in 2013.
Well, Might as well start now!