More than 70% of Aquatic Products for Children did not Comply with European Safety Standards All Detected with Naphthalene Posed Potential Risk of Cancer

15 June 2020
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During the hot summer days, parents would purchase different types of aquatic products to ensure that their children are safe when making a splash or going to swim.  However, the Consumer Council tested 22 types of aquatic products for children and found that their quality was far from ideal, with more than 70% of the models failing to meet European safety standards. The risks included products easily losing balance and going underwater, seams of materials breaking apart, safety buckles too loose or inflation valve leaking. The Council was particularly concerned with the safety of collar rings for babies. The safety buckles of 4 models that could be released accidentally which is supposed to secure the babies’ neck position when they are in water. Parents should also beware that an overtight collar ring could affect babies breathing. The Council reminds parents that swimming aids are not intended to use as life-saving tools, they should attend to their children at all times to avoid drowning. On the other hand, manufacturers should improve product designs and quality of their swimming products, as well as provide detailed instructions to safeguard the safety of young children.

Moreover, potential carcinogen substances - polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were detected in all models, among which 6 models contained naphthalene with levels higher than the upper limit of the German Voluntary Product Certification Scheme (GS Mark). The findings were a concern. The harmful substances can be inhaled by breathing or sucking through the mouth of children. Excessive rubbing between children’s soft skin and swimming aids may also cause allergic reactions. The risks must not be underestimated. The Council urges manufacturers to minimize possible the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in their products for the protection of children’s health.

The 22 swimming products for children tested by the Council could be divided into 2 main categories: first, aquatic toys designed for children to have fun in the water; and second, swimming aids for children learning to swim or getting familiar with water. The test covered 15 models of swimming aids, including children's swimming chest rings, baby swimming neck rings and children's swim seats, etc., and 7 models of swimming ring, mainly for children to play in shallow water. Since most consumers may not be able to differentiate the two, to protect the safety of children, and provide comprehensive information on product quality to consumer. The Council’s test was made reference to the European Toy Safety Standards EN71 - Part 1, and the European Swimming Aids Safety Standards EN13138 - Part 2, providing comprehensive information on product quality to consumers.  

Of the 15 swimming aid models, there were 4 models of baby collar rings and 2 models of chest rings which were wearable swimming aids. Other 9 types were swim seats. According to the requirement of European Standard, the safety buckle attached to swimming aids should be able to withstand a minimum force of 50N (Newton) from 2 directions to prevent accidental release. The safety buckles of 5 among the 6 models of the wearable swimming aids can be unfastened with a force of less than 50N and one of them as baby collar rings can be even unlocked easily with only 11.4N, both situations could put children and baby to the risk of drowning. The Council reiterates that when using the baby collar rings, it cannot be too big or too loose, if chances of the ring loosens might happen drowning. If the ring is too tight, it may press against the baby’s delicate trachea and cause breathing problem, even worst is to pressurise on the baby’s carotid sinus in the neck, resulting in slow down of heart beat and drop in blood pressure. Severe cases can even cause shock. As such, according to expert’s advice, children under 1 year old should not go swimming.

In addition, the design of swim seats for children aims to prevent the baby from falling into the water. The Council warns that an unstable swimming seat would be a risk as it would lose its balance on one side or sink when the child is moving in it, which may increase the risk of accidents. The tests assess the in-water stability test simulates as a child sitting on the swim seats but 6 out of the 9 models test failed to meet the requirements. Failures include leakage of air in the main inflatable chamber, the buoyancy of the product not sufficient to keep the seat upright or support a child’s body. 4 of the models had only 1 inflatable chamber, which did not comply with the minimum requirement of 2 independent inflatable chambers for inflatable swimming aids. There was 1 model when flipping over in the water, the test manikin was stuck in the seat and was unable to escape to safety in time.

The presence of certain harmful substances or additives in children’s products is also a concern for parents. Naphthalene was detected in all 22 models tested, with concentrations ranging from 0.2 to 4.3 mg/kg. In 6 of the models, the content of naphthalene exceeded the upper limits of German Voluntary Product Certification Scheme (GS Mark) for long term direct skin contact with toys and swimming products (1mg/kg for aquatic toys and 2 mg/kg for swimming aids). Naphthalene is volatile, and a potential carcinogen for human. It can be inhaled by breathing or sucking through the mouth. If consumers find a strong plastic smell with their swimming aids at home, they should place them in a ventilated area and use them only until the smell disappeared, so as to reduce the chances of children inhaling naphthalene.

The tests also found the presence of phenanthrene in 8 models and pyrene in 2 models. Phenanthrene and pyrene are skin and respiratory allergens. Although the levels detected fall within the requirement of the German Voluntary Product Certification Scheme (GS Mark) (with the upper limits for aquatic toys and swimming aids set at 1mg/kg and 10mg/kg respectively), that the Council reminds a prolonged exposure to these substances may cause rashes or allergic reactions.

Durability of materials is another concern in swimming aids product, for example, poor seam strength could cause air leakage easily. The seam of 1 swim seat breaks after being inflated 165 times, which failed to meet the European standards of no damage after being inflated 500 times. The European Standard also requires swimming aids present in bright colours. However, all collar rings, together with 2 swim seats, were very light or almost transparent in colours. The manufacturers should change the colours to sharp solid colours such as bright red or orange so that the products could be seen easily in water, and enabling parents to watch out and lifeguards to rescue them in case their kids from drowning.

Furthermore, any swimming rings printed with cartoon or animal figures are classified as aquatic toys. That served for use in shallow water areas. Of the 7 models tested in accordance with the European Toy Safety Standards, the inflation valves of 2 swimming rings have the plugs protruding more than 5mm from the inflatable surface after being pressed into the swimming ring, making it easy to open and leak air, failing to meet the standard requirement.

Parents should always be nearby their kids when they are practicing water activities. They should be highly guarded and take note of the following points:

  • Attention should be paid to a kid’s physical development and swimming skills, in order to choose the right swimming products according to the product size, as well as its applicable ages and weights;
  • Other than cleaning and storing the swimming products carefully, they should be checked in details each time before use to see if there is any damage or air leakage. The instructions on the packages should be read in detail;
  • When inflating the products, do make sure no sharp objects around when the product is inflated so as to avoid puncture or scratch. After full inflation, the valve must be pushed into the product to prevent leakage;
  • The durability of inflatable swimming products in general in low, but they are more comfortable. Foam-type swimming products are more durable and their buoyancy is more stable.

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