Foam Mats Health Risk: The Test Results Are In!

 

The results are in!

On July 15, 2011, ANSES (the French agency charged with conducting the study) published its final  report and recommendations regarding the potential health risks of formamide exposure from EVA foam mats.  The 240 page report will make any research lab aficionado proud, but will lose most casual readers, especially since it’s in French.  The short answer is that: Yes, formamide was found in these mats. But it’s not as simple as that.

A quick recap…

In December 2010 Belgian authorities pulled from the market popular children’s foam floor mats  because they emitted high levels of formamide  (a toxic industrial chemical). France followed suit soon thereafter and imposed a temporary ban in order to conduct further lab tests.

Please read FAIL: Foam floor mats banned in France, Belgium. Shouldn’t we all know about this?

and UPDATE: Foam mats banned in Europe, why not here? if you already have not done so.

While there was little to no news coverage outside of Europe, there were a lot of inquiring parents across the blogosphere in North America and elsewhere (my blog posts were particularly popular in the US, Singapore, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). At the same time, there remained a lot of unanswered questions as to source of the formamide, retailer integrity and the types of dangers and precautions to take. Things have been relatively quiet since then. In March, the French authorities extended the ban till mid-July in order to complete its tests.

What is Formamide and why is it in my child’s mats?

Formamide is classified as a reprotoxic substance (reproductive toxicity includes adverse effects on sexual function and fertility in adult males and females, as well as developmental toxicity in the offspring) and is used primarily in the chemical, pharmaceutical, plastics and polymer industries as a solvant, plasticiser or as an additive to foam blowing agents.

The report noted that formamide no longer seems to be in use in France as a plasticiser or additive for EVA  foam, but that since it is easy to use and inexpensive, it may still be used overseas (read: China). The report further noted that the exact reason why it is used in the manufacturing process or how it found its way into products was not clear based on their research.

This means that if a retailer or manufacturer claims – as many have – that their mats do not contain  formamide, they may be honest, yet wrong; or technically correct, yet dishonest. This is because the formamide can appear in the product as a bi-product of the manufacturing process while not being contained in the recipe of the product itself.

Furthermore, the amounts of formamide measured in mats on the markets in France, Belgium and Denmark ranged from less than 20 mg/kg (traces) to more than 1,300 mg/kg. This means that while the products were essentially similar (foam puzzle mats), the wide range of measurements implies that the presence of formamide did not seem necessary in the manufacturing process itself.

What are the dangers of formamide?

The report noted that here are no studies on the effects of formamide on humans. Lab test on rats have found that formamide initially targets the hematopoietic (organs contributing to the formation of blood components) and reproductive systems. Data from rats exposed throughout their lifetimes suggest a potential carcinogenic effect (tumors), but more research is needed. However, the report noted, it is not possible to exclude the potential carcinogenic effects of prolonged exposure. No adequate studies were identified by the report as to quantifying the critical dose levels of short term exposure (less than 90 days).

Does the formamide in EVA foam  mats pose a health risk?

The French researchers tested three different brands of foam puzzle mats.  The study found that any exposure to formamide came almost exclusively through inhalation.  Exposure through ingestion (whether through suction, chewing, or swalling a piece) was negligible.

The patterns observed were similar across all three products tested:

  • strong emission of formamide, decreasing rapidly during the first few days;
  • more moderate emission (from 50 to 200 µg/m3) for the first week of use;
  • emission in the region of 20 to 30 µg/m3 after the first month of use.

ANSES used these figures as a basis for calculating short- and long-term exposure to formamide. The report noted that, although it is not possible to exclude health risks (hematopoietic disorders) related to exposure to formamide in puzzle mats found on the market in France (and likely elsewhere), especially with regard to infants, the probability of these risks occurring was low (less than 5%). Furthermore, there appeared to be no likelihood of health risk for adults, including pregnant women.

So what does this all mean?

There are a number of takeaways from the report:

  1. Formamide, it’s bad for you: it’s classified as toxic substance. Following the report, manufacturers and distributors in France will need to provide test results showing that any formamide emission did not exceed 20 mg/m3 (traces) starting from the the 28th day after unpacking. A 2009 EU already mandates that, starting in 2013, any such substance cannot be used or found in toys
  2. Up to standard does not mean safe: the mats tested actually were “up to standard” in the sense that they contained less than 0.5% of formamide by mass; and the formamide may have come from elsewhere in the manufacturing process
  3. Exposure comes from breathing in formamide fumes more than anything else
  4. The fumes are the strongest with new mats and decrease over time
  5. The health risks are real, though small (less than 5%)
  6. Young children are at the ones at risk
  7. Other products made of EVA-type foam may pose similar risks

What do I do if I own foam mats?

If you’ve owned foam mats for an extended period of time (more than one month), the fumes have largely dissipated by now and the mats should no longer pose any health risks.

What should I do I want to buy foam mats?

Obviously, look for a brand of mats that clearly states that it has been tested to be free of any formamide emissions (different from containing formamide!).

Regardless, the report recommends that consumers should unpack the new mats and keep them for several days in a room not frequently used by any children under the age of three to avoid any potential exposure to formamide when the emission levels are still high. Of course, if you remain concerned, you are free not to buy these products.

An informed consumer is a better consumer

This papa is pleased that a government agency (finally) acted on consumer concerns, commissioned a scientific study of the issue and had the results released publicly. The study showed that the risks, while small, were real.

What is more important, however, is that consumers are now better informed and can make their own decisions regarding the issue at hand.

 

 

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35 Responses to Foam Mats Health Risk: The Test Results Are In!
  1. Ross
    August 2, 2011 | 8:18 am

    Excellent!

    Thanks Papa, That kind of detail is extremely helpful. Since my wife always let’s everything off-gas for at least a month before it comes in the house she’ll be relieved to know we’re all good.

  2. papa
    Twitter: papalogic
    August 3, 2011 | 1:49 am

    You’re welcome Ross. Wow, you’re wife is on top of things!

    papa.

  3. [...] to a more up to date study which is a bit more reassuring if you have some of these mats already http://www.papalogic.com/foam-mats-h…esults-are-in/ The biggest danger seems to be in fumes given off in the early days and not through children [...]

  4. Putting the Puzzle together | HonestPreggo
    October 15, 2011 | 10:11 pm

    [...] the news here: http://www.papalogic.com/foam-mats-health-risk-the-results-are-in/ Tweet Tags: important, risks, toys, [...]

  5. Jojo
    June 12, 2012 | 6:21 am

    I just concern as I have one.. I was left this mat for 2 days before using then I washed it with soap and water and left it after and was cover this with blanked for a while and not use this for long time may be 10 min ..
    Do u think I still in height risk ??

  6. Christine
    June 23, 2012 | 7:46 am

    Very helpful, thanks. What alternative products are out there from foam play mats? Are there are other play mats out there made of different materials that are safer? Thanks!

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      June 25, 2012 | 3:28 am

      Hi Christine – thanks for dropping by. Foam mats are pretty convenient, I must say. We replaced ours with a soft carpet. A number of foam mat brands claim that they are formamide free, but it’s a question of trust with your brands (some thought their products did not while they actually did). Perhaps ask them (the retailer/manufacturer) specifically if they have been tested and even if they have, let the tiles air out prior to use as described in the post in any case.

  7. Liz
    September 7, 2012 | 6:35 am

    Thoughts on getting a second hand/used mat? It may have been been back in it’s “original packaging” for a bit though… my son is everywhere and keeps banging his head so it would be difficult to wait a month to air anything out.

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      September 7, 2012 | 2:43 pm

      Hi Liz – I think that second hand mats are probably fine as far as this specific issue is concerned. Probably a worth a good wash though!

  8. monica de leon
    October 17, 2012 | 3:21 pm

    Thanks for this useful information, I just purchase one to use in the classroom, they are a great learning tool and fun, as the children can move the letters and spell nouns, but after reading this article, I am thinking twice to use it.
    Thanks for the information

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      October 18, 2012 | 12:52 am

      Hi Monica – thanks for dropping by and for commenting.

  9. Lina Mai
    November 3, 2012 | 10:22 pm

    I am trying to compare Skip Hop and Soft Tiles playmats. The Skip Hop has 2 ug/m3 (less than 2 millionths of a gram—micrograms—per cubic meter) of formamide, whereas the Soft Tiles are less than 10 mg/kg (ppm). Does anyone know how to compare these measurements? Also, do these measurements assess how much formamide is emitted from the product or how much is in the product?

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      November 4, 2012 | 12:41 am

      Hi Lina-thanks for your email. You’d need a little more information to compare the two figures. Even before we get into the math, and as you allude to, the relationship between formamide content and formamide emanation is the issue that is still not fully clear (and with respect to content, it’s not clear whether manufacturers are talking about theoretical content, content in ingredients or content in the finished product).

      At a high level, 10ppm = 10mg/kg = 10mg/l of water = 10,0000mg / m3 = 10g/m3, so it seems that the Soft Tiles have much more formamide than the Skip Hop ones, in theory.

      (however, it’s no clear if the stats are based on conventional chemistry measurements based on liters of water or 1 actual cubic meter worth of tiles which will weigh much less than the equivalent volume of water)

      The math aside, it’s probably best to simply let the tile air out for a week or two before installing in your child’s room anyway.

  10. Lina Mai
    November 3, 2012 | 10:22 pm

    Do the measurements for Skip Hop and Soft Tiles assess how much formamide is emitted from the product or how much is in the product?

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      November 4, 2012 | 12:42 am

      I believe it’s the latter.

  11. Catherine
    December 15, 2012 | 5:58 pm

    Hi there i wonder if this is a good substitute for foam mats for babies? The claimed to be EcoWise closed cell-foam material. Latex, PVC, Phthalates and Chloride and formamide free.

    It’s still have a slight bit of smell tho.
    http://ecowisefitness.aeromats.com/yoga_yogapilatesmats1.html

  12. Lina Mai
    January 1, 2013 | 2:21 pm

    I contacted SoftTiles, and the president emailed me that “There is no formamide detected in the actual mat itself at 10 mg/kg.” I asked if this referred to emissions, and he wrote, “If the mats do not have formamide in them, they are not emitting them. The formamide can not just appear if it is not in the mat.” Is this true? Thank you!

    • Ewald Heersema
      April 1, 2013 | 12:53 pm

      Hello Lina:
      It kind of concerns me to see the reply from SoftTiles as you indicated it in your post. I don’t think SoftTiles makes the foam that the products are made of, so you really should get a statement from the foam producer. The problem is that all foams made in Asia are made with chemical blowing agents that can/will have bad residual components, not just formamide. The chemical blowing agents are linked to Asthma, for one. I would not use these foams for my children’s play areas.

  13. jack daniels
    March 21, 2013 | 8:31 am

    Its not possible to be harmed by the chemicals stated in the french report,
    it would require a person, adult or child to ingest and swallow a large
    quantity of EVA foam mats in order to have the slightest effect.
    Eva Foam playmats are actually harmless from a chemical point of view.
    There is a lot of confused ‘guidance’ advice and content out there.
    Just remember, toothbrushes, sports running shoes, swimming floats
    ( many kids chew these!) and many more endless items are produced
    from EVA foam. The main offending chemical is Formamide DMF (not formaldehyde)
    is only used in the powder mix ( a tiny quantity) and is ‘cooked’ off during
    production. EVA foam can be produced without DMF – but this will treble x the
    prices on most foam items.

    China based producers tend to use ammonia in their EVA, so avoid products f
    rom this country, but 99% of foam goods from Taiwan are without dangerous
    chemicals and have a good consistant record of quality control.
    In short, the lack of clear guidance from testing agencies helps to add
    to confusion on these safe puzzle play mats. My advice is just to ensure
    you buy from a well established producer with Taiwanese produced mats.

    • Ewald Heersema
      April 1, 2013 | 1:10 pm

      Hi Jack:

      I appreciate the post, but I don’t think EVA producers use ammonia in their process; ammonia and carbon monoxide are a result of the chemical decomposition process from the foaming agent. Besides that you can fine other components in these materials that can be harmful. Yes, I don’t think you are mostly correct that no-one will die from the materials but every user has to make up their own mind, right?

      • Ewald Heersema
        April 1, 2013 | 4:01 pm

        Sorry, I meant to say: Yes, I think you are mostly correct that no-one will die from the materials but every user has to make up their own mind, right?

  14. Jason
    May 17, 2013 | 8:00 am

    I use EVA foam mats for costuming purposes, often cutting and heating the materials. Do you know whether any of the studies (I can’t read French) have mentioned an increase in off-gassing of Formamide during heating of the tile, or whether heating increases the amount released? Would it have the same latency after heating to become ‘safe’ again? Any info would help, thanks.

    • Ewald Heersema
      May 17, 2013 | 12:20 pm

      Jason:
      Heating the foam will increase and speed-up the release of ingredients. Besides Formamide, there is also Acetophenone in all chemically expanded foams, not just EVA foams (Polyethylene foam, others). We just submitted some chemically expanded foam for gas chromatography analysis and found three Acetophenone markers. So it all depends on how the foam is made, chemically expanded foams are not that good. The samples we evaluated were months old! When you heat them up, things continue to come out, part of this is also measured in the automotive industry in VOC and FOGGING measurements – deposits of ingredients when you heat the foam. Ultimately, though, the outgassing will stop but may not be before the foam is beyond use. Find a foam that is pure and clean, has no chemical blowing agents. Zotefoams products are blown with nitrogen and don’t have these chemical additives. Best wishes and good luck.

    • walker
      May 18, 2013 | 5:55 am

      Ignore the other replies…total nonesense…Heating the EVA will only cause it to soften and deform until it cools. the is NO Formamide in EVA after the initial mat production as Formamide is burnt of during the main production process,and the percentage content of most EVA mats is 0.01%… however, dont inhale any fumes when heating, as the PE content in most quality EVA mats, may be toxic if buring. PE is polyethylene and it provides the elasticity in hi quality EVA mats. Crap EVA mats ( from China) have hardly any PE, mainly just foamed EVA and other chemicals including ammonia and possibly DMF dimethyl fumerate, therefore will become brittle in time and deteriorate.

      • Ewald Heersema
        May 20, 2013 | 4:24 pm

        Walker: Appreciate your comment – Not sure whose comments you are referring to ignore, all of them? No argument intended but EVA foams are a blend of Polyethylene and Vinyl Acetate – we make them. It is the Vinyl Acetate component in conjunction with PE that makes for flexibility; the more VA, the more flexible the product. EVA foams (the crap foam you refer to) indeed has high levels of VA and then are filled to provide density. Maybe we can talk off line? 800-859-8130

        • ANDREEA
          July 29, 2013 | 12:30 am

          Hello!

          Can i get your email? I am very concerned regarding these floor mats , which i have been using in the kids room for over an year and a half now.

  15. anny
    August 13, 2013 | 8:23 am

    hi,
    i have been using the Imaginarium ABC foam mats for over three months.
    i am worried.
    should i get rid of them now?
    everything we own is toxic..but how toxic is this?

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      December 22, 2013 | 5:55 am

      The mats should no longer be a problem after three months of use.

  16. sigrid de guzman
    November 13, 2013 | 10:59 pm

    i covered our foam mats (placed in my son’s bedroom wall) with a wallpaper, will the wallpaper prevent the emission of the formamide and other harmful substance there is? thanks in advance for your reply!

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      December 22, 2013 | 5:51 am

      Hi – Thanks for your comments and sorry for the late response (technical issues). Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to your question. As mentioned in the article, the formamide dissipates in 1-2 weeks. If you put wallpaper immediately, I don’t know if the wallpaper sealed the foam mats or whether gases still filtered through.

  17. Sudhir
    January 21, 2014 | 2:29 pm

    Papa, do you know if foam mats made by NORSK are made with EVA foam or have formamide. They claim to be ASTM F 963 07 compliant and Non-toxic, Latex Free, Lead Free, Allergen Free, Phthalate Free and Odor Free.

    Again is it formamide or formaldehyde?

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      January 23, 2014 | 12:13 am

      Hi Sudhir – I do not have an answer for you on the NORSK foam mats.

      The health risk mentioned in the research relates to “formamide”.

  18. Ethan
    January 23, 2014 | 11:31 am

    Hi, I’m from eWonderWorld.com. We are the supplier of the Wonder Mat and been in the industry for more than 25 years.

    A lot of customers were concern after France and Belgium issued a ban on EVA foam mats. However, these two countries have reversed the ban and set a restriction on how much formamide foam mats can contain instead. Keep in mind that no other countries have banned or set restrictions on formamide. Australia conducted a test on formamide in foam mats and have found no health risk, you can read the article in the following link:

    http://www.productsafety.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/989496

    http://newsletter.sgs.com/eNewsletterPro/uploadedimages/000006/sgs-safeguards-1291212-france-extends-temporary-ban-for-formamide-in-puzzle-mats-a4-en-12.pdf

    All our mats have pass and exceed all US regulations.

    Our standard mats have not been specifically tested for formamide as we are not required nor any real tests show that it is a safety concern to children. In order to better serve our concerned customers, we have brought in formamide non-detectable mats. You can find the reports in the following link:

    http://www.ewonderworld.com/test%20report/ACT-Mats_FormamideNDTestReport.pdf

    You can order the Formamide Non-Detectable mats in the following link:

    http://www.ewonderworld.com/index.php/mats/formamide-nd.html

    Please note we do NOT plan on carrying these formamide ND mats in the future so supply is limited. It is too costly(to manufacture and for our customers as well), low demand, have not been proven to be a health risk to children nor is required by country other than France and Belgium.

    Let me know if you have any more questions regarding formamide or foam mats in general.

  19. hot girl trang cherry
    February 24, 2014 | 4:36 am

    Papa, do you know if foam mats made by NORSK are made with EVA foam or have formamide. They claim to be ASTM F 963 07 compliant and Non-toxic, Latex Free, Lead Free, Allergen Free, Phthalate Free and Odor Free.

    • papa
      Twitter: papalogic
      July 3, 2014 | 1:47 am

      I do not know.

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