From the family room to the nursery, hundreds of VOCs pollute household air at any given time, creating a chemical “cocktail” that can include irritants, odorants, carcinogens and reproductive toxins. VOCs have been linked to health problems like headaches; eye, nose, and throat irritation; asthma symptoms; increased respiratory irritation; fatigue; and mental confusion.

Exposure to chemicals in the air can have a more significant impact on the health of children than adults. Kids breathe at a faster rate, so they inhale more. Their immune, respiratory and neurological systems are still developing, making them more sensitive. They tend to spend most of their time indoors, too, where the overall level of air-polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde is higher than it is outdoors.

VOCs are emitted from many types of construction materials, furniture, electronics and cleaning products in addition to toys. Because kids interact so closely with toys so often, a study was recently conducted by UL, an independent safety science company, to collect VOC emissions information on a sampling of six representative popular toy types purchased from retailers:

  1. Doll wearing clothes
  2. Remote-controlled car
  3. Wooden alphabet blocks
  4. Wooden puzzle
  5. Play oven turned on
  6. Baby bouncer seat

Chemical emission levels were measured within four inches of each product. Each of the toys emitted 95 or more VOCs except for the baby bouncer, which emitted 45. The total VOC (TVOC) level from each product was generally two to seven times higher than the level that qualifies as low-emitting.

While more extensive studies are needed in this area, UL is using the findings to recommend that manufacturers take proactive steps to verify the VOC emission levels of their products and remove irritating or toxic chemicals.