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Council Warns on Children's Plastic Footwear Containing Harmful Substances - CHOICE # 447

  • 2014.01.14

Hazardous chemicals in high quantity were detected in many children's plastic footwear in a Consumer Council test on 28 models of casual footwear, slippers and rain boots.

The chemicals were identified to consist of the plasticizer phthalates and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both of which may have adverse effect on health.

Certain phthalates and PAHs have been shown to cause damage to the liver and kidney in experimental animals while benzo[a]pyrene (BaP), a PAH, is carcinogenic to humans.

At present, there is no regulatory control in respect of phthalates nor PAHs content in children's footwear or footwear products in Hong Kong.

Regulatory control of phthalates content in footwear is currently in force in Turkey for imported footwear, and in the State of California in the USA for accessible components of footwear products and other consumer goods. The permissible limit is set at 0.1%.

Out of the 28 samples, more than half (15) - 5 casual footwear, 4 slippers and 6 rain boots - were detected with quantities of phthalates (i.e. DBP, DEHP and DINP) higher than the limit of 0.1%.

The levels of phthalates detected in the test were a cause for concern. For instance, the highest amount of a particular phthalate present in 12 models reached 15.2% to 43.3% - way over and above the stipulated 0.1% level.

In general, phthalates cannot be absorbed effectively through human skin. Nonetheless, children may come to ingest phthalates indirectly through hands brought to the mouth or food after touching the footwear. Phthalates may also be released and become attached to dust, resulting in possible inhalation of contaminated house dust, and consumption of contaminated food or water.

Exposure to phthalates released from PVC materials (commonly used in plastic consumer products) may increase the risk of developing asthma and allergies.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, skin contact to consumer goods containing DEHP may not be likely to pose a health risk. But research has shown that the use of sun lotion or oil-based moisturizers may increase the amount of migrated phthalates in contact with the skin. Open wounds or eczema may also increase skin absorption of phthalates.

In addition, 4 models - 3 casual footwear and 1 slipper - were detected with high amount of PAHs (18 PAHs in total were tested) ranging from 15.3 ppm to 47.5 ppm, considerably higher than the upper limit of 10 ppm for materials with long-term skin contact set under Germany's GS Mark, a voluntary certification scheme.

But more significantly, 3 of these 4 models were also found with the carcinogenic BaP, a PAH, ranging from 1.1 ppm to 3.1 ppm, which is higher than the GS Mark upper limit of 1 ppm set for BaP in materials with long-term skin contact.

Upon skin contact, PAHs are in general easily absorbed. Dermal contact may induce irritation and over long-term exposure even skin cancer.

PAHs are commonly present in plastics, rubber and lubricating oil and so are consumer goods manufactured with the use of such materials.

Out of the 28 models, 12 were found to be within the limits for both phthalates and PAHs content.

The plastic footwear samples were also put to test to determine the migration of formaldehyde and certain elements (antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium). The samples were all given a clean bill of health.

The Consumer Council has already notified the Customs and Excise Department of the test findings for consideration of follow-up action.

To minimize the risk of skin contact of phthalates and PAHs through plastic footwear, parents are advised to ensure their children wear socks, and to remind them not to put their hands to the mouth or food after touching the footwear.

Proper storage of plastic footwear is also advisable to minimize phthalates dust polluting the household environment and contaminating the food or water in the process.

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