A reader emailed me recently, asking about EVA foam in children’s toys, and whether it’s safe. I thought it might be useful to share the answer, so here it is.
What is EVA?
Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is a plastic made by combining ethylene and vinyl acetate. It’s very soft and elastic and it can be made into a plastic that’s like rubber, yet extremely tough. It’s considered to be a safe alternative to PVC.
EVA can also be made into EVA foam, with the use of a plasticizer. It’s the EVA foam that is controversial, rather than EVA.
Where do you find it?
EVA foam is used for all sorts of things.
It’s used in footwear – think of the padding in you running shoes, moulded soles or orthotics. EVA is used in sports gear like swimming kick mats, pool noodles and buoyancy life jackets, in trampoline padding and protective gear for martial arts. It’s used as padding in sports equipment, like shin guards, ski boots, boxing gloves and bike saddles.
It’s used in building equipment like insulation and carpet underlay, and in healthcare for things like splints.
Foam craft stickers are often made of EVA, and kids’ foam toys. Which is why Suzie emailed us in the first place: she wanted to know if the EVA foam in boon bath toys is safe for babies.
Is EVA safe for babies?
EVA is considered to be a safe alternative to PVC, as it doesn’t require plasticizers like phthlates, and it’s BPA free.
However, a few years ago it was found that EVA foam contained formamide. Formamide is used to make the foam soft, but it’s considered to be carcinogenic and a developmental toxin. Formamide can be absorbed through the skin, and it can also be absorbed by breathing it. Belgium banned children’s EVA foam mats in 2011, and apparently so did France, but I couldn’t find any further information on France’s ban.
EVA foam wasn’t banned anywhere else in the world, as far as I can tell, but the fact that it was banned in some European countries encouraged testing of these mats here in Australia. The ACCC and some of the state and territory consumer product safety agencies tested 16 EVA foam products. They concluded that:
“Foam play mats and toys typically available in Australia do not expose children to unsafe amounts of formamide and these products are safe for their intended purpose.”
The Canadian government undertook testing on formamide as well, and concluded that at current levels of exposure, formamide was considered safe.
How do you avoid formamide in EVA foam?
Even though EVA foam is considered safe by the ACCC, you may still want to check that any EVA foam products you’re thinking of buying are formamide free.
So how can you tell?
Some companies will print on their packaging, or mention on their website that the EVA foam that they use is formamide free. However, not all manufacturers do this.
If you’re not sure whether a product you want to buy contains formamide, just email the company and ask. We asked
boon whether they test for formamide in their EVA foam products, and they replied back by email within a day to let us know that they do. None of boon’s EVA foam products contain formamide.
If the company won’t tell you, or if they don’t test, don’t buy that product. And let them know that’s why you’re not buying it, so that they’ll consider testing in the future.
As an aside, if you’re not sure if a foam toy is made of PVC or EVA – give it a sniff. If it smells strongly of chemicals, it’s probably PVC. Of course, if the label doesn’t say what it’s made from, you probably want to give it a miss anyway!