Back in October 2009 the Belgian independent consumer products tester Test-Achats conduced a test of the popular jigsaw floor puzzles made out of EVA foam. To their surprise and horror they found that the vast majority of the floor puzzles tested contained and released the chemical formamide. These test results were later confirmed by the laboratories of the Belgian government, who promptly issued a ban of all EVA foam mats in December 2010. France followed suit a few days later.
Nearly two years later the same foam mats are still on sale in the rest of Europe including the UK. A Europe wide ban on products containing formamide will come into force only in July 2013.
Formamide, which is added to EVA foams to make the final product more bendable, is a seriously nasty compound that has no place in a product used by children, babies and expectant mothers. Whilst formamide is often quoted in the media as being toxic, is actually formally classed as harmful – in real life this means the concentration required to kill is somewhat smaller and it is highly unlikely that EVA foam mats would kill you. EVA is also corrosive and can cause severe burns or blistering, again the amounts required to cause such effect is not likely to occur in EVA foam mats.
However, for me as a chemist and mother the most concerning feature of formamide is its teratogenicity. This means the compound is known to cause foetal abnormalities and embryonic death. The chemical is also suspected to cause cancer. Exposure to cancer causing compounds should always be avoided, but is never more important than very early in life. This is because the effects can take a very long time to manifest and because the actual amount required to do harm in a baby are much lower than in adults.
To make matters worse once the chemical is released from the EVA is likely to linger near the floor level as the density of formamide vapours are heavier than air, therefore exposing your baby to the highest concentrations anywhere in the room.
So, how do you avoid exposing yourself and your children to formamide. Well, there are a number of manufacturers that claim to not use formamide in their production or that their foam puzzles are within the legal limits. Whilst these statements may be true, it is all too easy to misinform customers about the fact that their products in fact release formamide.
Until the law regarding formamide is tightened in the rest of Europe, I think the best option for the consumer is to steer clear of EVA foams all together.
If you are looking for a healthy alternative to EVA foam mats, cosyplay may be the answer. Cosyplay mats contain memory foam, a spongy much softer foam than EVA, but which still offers excellent shock absorption and insulation. At a size of 1.0m x 1.5m the cosyplay mat does not present the unlimited expansion that the puzzle mats offer, but it is still big enough for you and your baby to roll around and play.
Importantly, memory foam is made by a completely different process to EVA and therefore there is no possibility of the release of formamide.
Cosyplay is run by Dr Kerstin Castle, who studied chemistry for 7 years. We test and analyse our products for any chemicals that we could think of, that may cause harm to babies – regardless of whether we are required to do so by law or not. We want to give the best and safest products possible to you and we really understand what that means.