Consumers, beware. A toxics watchdog group in the Philippines has issued an alert on children’s plastic balloon blowing kits which it has found to contain cancer-causing benzene.

While long banned in developed countries, toys containing benzene, a chemical classified as “carcinogenic to humans”, are still sold in some developing countries.

The group, Ecowaste Coalition, has called for benzene to be banned in toys after following its discovery of the presence of this hazardous chemical in 3 plastic balloon products that it bought from toy vendors in Manila.

In a laboratory analysis, J.H. Toy Space Balloons, Bili Plastic Balloons, and Haida Taikong Space Balloons were found to contain 26, 31 and 44 parts per million (ppm) of benzene, respectively, exceeding the 5 ppm limit for benzene in toys under European Union’s regulations.

J.H. and Haida Taikong plastic balloons were also found to emit 28-167 ppm of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). (VOCs are created when toxic chemicals vapourise and form harmful gases.)

“Human exposure to benzene has been associated with a range of acute and long-term adverse health effects and diseases, including cancer and hematological effects,” according to the WHO, warning “children are particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of lead, and even relative low levels of exposure can cause serious and in some cases irreversible neurological damage”.

In Canada, benzene is banned in toys, and plastic balloon blowing kits have been prohibited there since 1973. In Australia, plastic balloons cannot contain benzene. In Europe, benzene in toys cannot exceed 5 ppm. And in the USA, benzene has been banned as an ingredient in products for use in the home, including toys.

In banning plastic balloon blowing kits, Health Canada explained that “children can be fascinated with these products, and if they blow balloons for extended periods they may experience early symptoms of central nervous system depression or dysfunction, including euphoria, hallucinations, dizziness, and difficulties with coordination of voluntary movements”.

The EcoWaste Coalition, supported by over 15 public interest groups, called for a “swift regulatory action” to protect the right of every child not to be exposed to hazardous substances like benzene, one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern” as per the World Health Organization (WHO).

The group has called for a ban on benzene in plastic balloon blowing kits, and a stop to further sale and use of such benzene-containing toys.

The Malaysian authorities should check if these same products are on sale here and take similar measures to protect our children. CAP advises parents to be on the alert and avoid buying such toys for children.