There is a good reason I opted not to study chemistry at university – my passion for learning and my interests lay elsewhere. However, ever since I’ve become a parent, I find myself involved in learning about a number of chemical substances which are present around us and inside us, only to discover that my learning curve is going to be very steep.
Nitrosamines, and its compounds, are known carcinogens that, according to a Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) report, “have been extensively tested in 40 different animal species and caused cancer in everyone of them, both after respiratory and oral exposure”.
I came across this word, recently, when a French consumers’ group, Que Choisir, issued a report which sparked controversy. As part of an investigation into the toxicity of toys, this association pointed finger at Sophie the Giraffe – the timeless French toy.
As covered by many social media magazines in France, the report claims that Sophie the Giraffe contains nitrosamines. And the truth is, she does. She is made from 100% natural rubber derived from the sap of the Hevea tree. Traces of nitrosamines in Sophie come from the vulcanization of the rubber sap by the rotational molding process. However, these traces are low and comply with the requirements of European standards, says Sophie’s manufacturer.
In fact, nitrosamines exist in nature: beer, sausages, nicotine… you name it; but none of the above is consumed by little teething babies, and this is where the controversy seems to have started.
So wait a second! Are they saying Sophie the Giraffe is toxic?!!! Is she going to give my baby cancer?
Well, it depends on whom you ask.
According to the revised Toy Safety Directive (see page 10) in effect as of 2013, toys intended for use by children under 36 months or toys intended to be placed in the mouth must have less or equal to 0.05 mg/kg of nitrosamines and 1 mg/kg of nitrosatable substances. Sophie’s manufacturer has been consistently compliant with the regulation. So Sophie is fine then, right?
Well, in their report, Que Choisir acknowledges that the levels of nitrosamines detected in Sophie meet the current EU toy safety standards. However, they allege that Sophie meets the toy safety standards for nitrosamines because it is regulated as a toy; should the Giraffe fall under the regulation for teats and soothers, Que Choisir claims the teether would be taken off the market.
On the other hand, Vulli, the manufacturer, has issued a statement refuting the allegations, insisting that Sophie has been safe for 50 years, and will continue to be so for generations to come. They are promising further legal action should anyone continue to “release information that is unfounded and unwarranted in any way that is harmful to Vulli.” According to the manufacturer, Sophie is “an undisputed star for the very young. The archetypal embodiment of the early learning toy”.
But with all due respect to Sophie, who, I agree, “has become timeless and cross-generational”, this story is not about her. This story is about our kids’ health, and the current toy safety policies and their effectiveness. In the report, Que Choisir challenges the existent toys safety system in general. The magazine denounces the established regulatory standards calling for more stringent safety regulations, asking France to endorse Germany’s demanding toy safety legislation.
In the US, it is safe to say that the existing 35 year-old law that governs federal chemicals policy is too relaxed to be protective. Under this legislation the EPA has required testing on just 200 of the nearly 80,000 existing chemicals, and restricted only five. Enough said.
And while the famous Sophie has found herself sitting in a hot seat amid the media hype just before Christmas with the Jury still out, the real questions remain unanswered.
Are the current toy safety standards in the EU and the US capable of protecting our children? Do I err on the side of caution and get rid of the cute teether, or should I let my baby chew on the rubber toy hoping it won’t make her sick?
Please, share your thoughts. What do you think? How do you feel about this story?