Prohibited chemicals found in plastic and rubber goods

The Swedish Chemicals Agency has found prohibited levels of carcinogenic substances in several rubber and plastic goods. The substances, referred to as ‘PAHs’ were found in, among other things, handles, a hammer and a horse brush.

“The individual products don’t comprise any major risk, but the fact that these substances occur in the products entails problems in the long-term for both health and the environment. PAHs may involve health risks if you are exposed to the substances through the mouth, skin and in some cases by breathing them,” says Camilla Westlund, Inspector at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

In the enforcement project, the Swedish Chemicals Agency checked rubber or plastic goods which come into contact with the skin or can be inserted in the mouth. The analyses have focused on the content of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which is a group of substances of which some can cause cancer and damage the genotype. In the project 58 different goods were examined, among other things the handles of bicycles, tools and exercise equipment were checked. PAHs which are prohibited in goods were found in five of the tested products. However, two of these are exempt from the regulation as their sale started before the prohibition in the EU’s chemicals legislation REACH started to apply in December 2015.

PAHs are not added to goods intentionally but occur as impurities in raw materials which are used during the manufacture of plastic and rubber goods. Therefore, the substances may occur in plastic and rubber parts in many consumer goods. Analyses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency showed that PAHs occur in all the goods which were investigated in the project. However, in most cases the detected PAHs are not regulated in the chemicals legislation.

“In order to protect health and the environment, companies should try to ensure that their goods don’t contain contaminants of PAHs. One way of promoting goods which are chemically safe is to integrate chemical requirements with other quality requirements which companies impose on their suppliers,” says Camilla Westlund.

In the project the Swedish Chemicals Agency also checked whether the products contained other types of substances which are restricted. Prohibited high levels of lead were found in a rubber handle and a hammer. Short chain chlorinated paraffins (SCCPs), which are suspected to be carcinogenic and are harmful for aquatic organisms, were also found in the same hammer and handle as well as in a yoga mat. In six of the goods, substances included in the EU’s candidate list of substances of very high concern were found in levels above 0.1 percent. The phthalate DEHP was primarily found. Companies which sell goods with substances on the candidate list in levels above 0.1 percent are liable to provide information about this to professional users.

Several of the companies which sold goods with prohibited substances stopped the sale voluntarily after receiving the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s analysis results. In two cases where the companies did not state that they had stopped the sale themselves, the Swedish Chemicals Agency decided on a sales prohibition for the goods.

In the project, in total eight companies were reported to prosecutors for suspicion of environmental offence. The prosecutor decides whether a preliminary investigation should be initiated for a case. The prosecutor considers the degree of negligence and intent in the decision. The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s examination was conducted by means of random checks in 2016 and the results do not reflect the entire market for plastic and rubber goods.

Read the report (PDF 667 kB, in Swedish) , 666.4 kB.

For more information, please feel free to contact:

Camilla Westlund, Inspector, + 46 8 519 41 359

Marcus Hagberg, Inspector, +46 8 519 41 159

The Swedish Chemicals Agency’s press service, +46 8 519 41 200,

E-mail addresses of the Swedish Chemicals Agency’s employees are written as follows: