IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

Children’s Toys or Hazardous Waste?

Study finds plastic toys from 10 countries have high levels of toxic chlorinated paraffins

High levels of chemicals in several toys could qualify them as hazardous waste

A study released today by IPEN and its members from ten countries reveals that shockingly high levels of the toxic chemicals chlorinated paraffins are common in children’s plastic toys. All thirty-one toys tested for the study were found to contain the harmful chemicals, which are linked to cancer, damage to developing brains, endocrine disruption, damage to the liver and kidneys, and threats to reproductive health.

The toys were purchased in Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Malaysia, Mali, Philippines, Uganda, and USA. All toys tested contained both short- and medium-chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs and MCCPs), even though SCCPs were banned globally under the Stockholm Convention in 2017. MCCPs are currently under evaluation for a potential global ban and evidence shows they are equally harmful and warrant the same action. Several toys contained levels of SCCPs above the current proposals to limit amounts of the chemical in hazardous waste, meaning the toys could be considered hazardous waste under health-protective guidelines.

“We were very disturbed to find that our children’s toys contain these highly toxic chemicals. Many plastics contain toxic chemicals, and our study shows these chemicals can make their way into our homes in products our children and families use,” said Mme. Kouyaté Goundo Sissoko from ONG Appui pour la Valorisation et la Promotion des Initiatives Privées (ONG AVPIP] in Mali. “Industry must end their use of toxic chemicals in plastics. Our children deserve safe toys.”

Chlorinated paraffins are used in plastics to make plastics softer and more flexible and as flame retardants. They are among the most hazardous and high production volume chemicals in the world. Evidence shows chlorinated paraffins are released from plastics through their life cycle, and children can be exposed when they play with toys through skin contact, inhalation, dust, and ingestion. According to recent studies, current levels of exposure to chlorinated paraffins may already be associated with adverse effects on human health.

After SCCPs were banned, evidence suggests industry has been largely replacing them in plastics with MCCPs, even though MCCPs are likely to be just as toxic. Results from the IPEN study show the importance of restricting chemicals by classes, rather than one by one over decades, to avoid hazardous (so-called “regrettable”) substitution of one toxic threat with another. There were also exemptions allowed when SCCPs were banned, despite the health and environmental risks.

“The results today are a cautionary tale showing that allowing exemptions can result in ongoing toxic threats,” said IPEN Science Advisor Therese Karlsson, a co-author of the report. “Our study also shows that hazardous substitution can result in years of ongoing chemical health threats to children and families. Our children can’t wait decades for safe products. We need to end the use of toxic chemicals now, for our children’s health and the health of generations to come.”

The results also show the importance of labelling and traceability throughout the plastics life cycle — none of the toys were labelled for the presence of toxic chemicals. In addition, the global test results from today’s studies reflects the global nature of chemical transport by plastics: previous studies have found chlorinated paraffins in the environment all over the world, including in remote locations such as the Arctic.

“I grew up in an Ohio community polluted by a producer of chlorinated paraffins, their facility in my town is now designated as a Superfund site, one of the most polluted sites in the nation,” said Pamela Miller, Executive Director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), an IPEN Co-chair, and a co-author of today’s study. “Now as an Alaskan I have witnessed first-hand the spread of toxic chemicals even to the most remote areas including the Arctic. Given the global dispersal of chemicals from plastic pollution, we need global policy solutions to end chemical threats from plastics and promote safer materials made without toxic substances.”

The ten IPEN member organizations that participated in purchasing toys for testing are:

  • Jeunes Volontaires Pour L’Environment (JVE Benin) – Benin
  • Action pour l’Ecologie le Developpement et l’Amangement Durable (ACECODAD) – Burundi
  • Cameroonian Association for the Promotion of Sustainable Development (CAPSUDGO) – Cameroon
  • African Green Society (AFRIGRES) – Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Gramin Vikas Evam Paryavaran Samiti (GVEPS) – India
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP Malaysia) – Malaysia
  • Appui pour la Valorisation et la Promotion des Initiatives Privées (AVPIP) – Mali
  • Ban Toxics – Philippines
  • Pro-biodiversity Conservationists In Uganda (Probicou) – Uganda
  • Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) – USA

Click here to see the full report and more information.