Two European countries have ordered a total recall of popular Chinese-made foam puzzle mats for children after tests indicated they carry dangerous levels of a carcinogenic chemical.
This has raised fresh concerns from parents over the safety of toys produced in China, the world's largest toy producer and exporter, in the lead up to the holiday season.
Belgium ordered all foam puzzle mats imported from China to be taken off the shelves on December 10, citing a health department report that they emitted harmful p8s, specifically formamide, an industrial chemical that has been linked to cancer, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Three days later, France also announced a three-month sale ban on the products.
The French secretary of consumer affairs, Frederic
Lefebvre, is also trying to determine "the toxicity of carpet puzzles for children and sale on the French market."
He has asked his Belgian counterpart to communicate the results of a scientific analysis made about these toys.
Formamide is toxic to the reproductive system and can pose harm to fetuses and infants. Exposure to the chemical can also cause eye, nose, throat and skin irritation.
The latest decision by Belgium and France should raise awareness among Chinese parents, Dong Jinshi, the secretary general of the International Food Packaging Association, told the Global Times Monday, adding that foam puzzle mats in the world market all contain similar components.
"It's incredible that the mats are toxic and harmful to children," Gao Cunping, a mother in Beijing whose child's bedroom is covered in foam mats, told the Global Times Monday. "It's hard for parents to distinguish which toys are reliable."
According to Dong, adding formamide to foam products can fulfill two functions. One is to cause plastic to foam, which lowers weight and thus reduces production costs. It also improves flexibility, allowing the mats to be more resistant.
Therefore, certain manufacturers raised formamide levels without heeding the hazards.
Dong advised buyers to air their foam puzzle mats so that the toxic substances could evaporate.
Around 70 percent of the world's toys are made in China, with the sector's annual output worth 300％ billion yuan ($14.7 billion), according to a report issued by puworld.com, an online platform on the Chinese polyurethane industry.
To better regulate the industry, China issued a National Safety Technical Code for Toys in 2004 that stipulated toys must carry warning labels and age recommendations.
However, safety concerns have still been reported since. In January this year, China topped the list for the rapid alert system on non-food consumer products with 46 types of toys reported to have hidden safety risks.
"Many toys sold in small markets or by vendors are fake and have no authorized certificate," a staff member with the China Toy Association who declined to be named told the Global Times Monday.
Wu Yixiu, a campaigner with the Greenpeace Beijing Office, told the Global Times that there is no complete regulation on chemical substances in any relevant industry. She added that out of 45,000 chemicals, only about 300％ chemicals that carry acute poisoning risks are monitored.