Overseas testing of squishies found that the popular toys emit “dangerous” chemicals that have been linked to cancer, organ damage, eye irritation and impaired fertility.
The New Daily reported on Tuesday that squishies are widely sold in Australia at major retailers including Smiggle, Kmart, Target and Big W.
Squishies are small, foam-like toys similar in texture to stress balls. They come in the shape of animals and food such as hamburgers, cupcakes, strawberries and ice-cream cones.
An investigation by the Danish government revealed that all toys tested emitted “high levels” of harmful chemicals.
The report claimed that children who sleep with their squishies or have several of the toys in their bedroom are at “high risk”.
Despite these findings and Australian parents expressing safety concerns, Smiggle, Kmart, Target and Big W have shown no indication they will be pulling the products from shelves.
The identified chemicals include dimethylformamide, styrene and toluene.
Where are these chemicals commonly found?
Toluene is used to make paint thinners, nail polish remover, glues and liquid paper correction fluid. It is also essential in making the explosive compound known as TNT.
Styrene is used to make latex, synthetic rubber and polystyrene beads found in plastic packaging and disposable cups.
Dimethylformamide (DMF) has been found to cause liver damage in animal studies.
DMF is used to produce acrylic fibres, plastics, pesticides, adhesives, synthetic leathers and surface coatings.
Health impacts – according to the research
Toluene has been linked to impaired fertility and can affect the nervous system (dizziness, headaches).
Dimethylformamide has been shown to increase the risk of liver disease in animal studies as well as dermatitis.
Toxicologist Dr Ian Musgrave of the University of Adelaide said the severity of these effects would depend on a child’s level of exposure to these chemicals.
“The squishies are supposed to be manufactured with polyurethane foam. Toluene is used as the starting point in one of the components of the foam (to make toluene diisocyanate), and dimethylformamide can possibly be used as a solvent in the process,” he told The New Daily.
“It is possible that some unreacted toluene could be left over, as well as some of the solvents.
“Studies on polyurethane foams show that emissions of hazardous materials are well below safety thresholds. [But] it is entirely possible that improper manufacture could result in higher levels of leftover solvents and reactants in the squishies.”
Dr Musgrave said the Danish report makes no reference to a particular manufacturer, which makes it unclear whether the toys sold in Australian stores contain these same chemicals.
Rachael Wakefield-Rann said often products are allowed on the Australian market before testing is conducted on all of their chemical ingredients to determine whether there are any long-term health risks.
“Australia rarely actually bans chemicals. They just restrict usage and dosage for certain products – this is where all the controversy lies,” she said.
“The testing to determine safe doses of chemicals in products is not adequate to account for all the ways that products are used and how they are combined in real life.”