EcoWaste Coalition Draws Attention to VOCs in Children's Toys

The EcoWaste Coalition is urging the government to impose a mandatory ban on volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particularly benzene, in toys to protect young children from these hazardous chemicals.

The advocacy group for a zero waste and toxics-free society pressed for a ban on such chemicals in toys after samples of "made in China" plastic balloon blowing kits, or simply plastic balloons, released VOCs as determined through a Photoionization Detector (PID), a device used to monitor and measure VOCs in ambient air like benzene and other gases.

According to the test conducted by the Toxicology Referral and Training Center (TRTC) using a PID, samples of J.H. and Haida Taikong plastic balloons submitted by the EcoWaste Coalition for screening yielded 28 to 167 parts per million (ppm) of VOCs. The TRTC is the national specialty center for toxicology based at the East Avenue Medical Center in Quezon City.  Further analysis is required to confirm and identify the VOCs detected.

“To prevent children’s exposure to VOCs such as benzene and others, we urge our health authorities to consider adopting regulations banning these hazardous compounds in toys such as plastic balloon blowing kits,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition, noting “kids may be at greater risk from VOC exposure.”

According to the US Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), “health effects of exposure to some VOCs may include eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination and nausea; damage to liver, kidneys and central nervous system." Some VOCs are proven or suspected carcinogens (or substances that cause cancer).

Benzene, in particular, is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “carcinogenic to humans.” The US EPA has further categorized benzene as a “known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure.” Benzene is among the “10 chemicals of major public health concern,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Among other recommendations, WHO proposes the use of alternative solvents and the implementation of policies removing benzene from consumer products.

The use of benzene and related solvents in toys are already banned or restricted in other countries.

Under Australia’s Trade Practices (Consumer Safety Standards) Regulations, balloon blowing kits must not contain the carcinogenic substance benzene. 

In the European Union, benzene is not allowed in toys or parts of toys, including balloons, in concentrations exceeding 5 mg/kg (or 5 ppm).

In Canada, toys containing benzene and specifically balloon blowing kits containing any aromatic, aliphatic or other organic solvent are prohibited under Toys Regulations Nos. 22 and 24 of the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. “Any organic solvent is prohibited in the toy if the solvent, or its vapors, can be released during use.”  

According to Health Canada: “The safety concern is that blowing the balloons exposes a child to inhaling the vapours of any solvents present."

As a next step, the EcoWaste Coalition will send samples of plastic balloon blowing kits to a government-accredited laboratory for benzene analysis.