Watchdog calls for regulation over play mats

The Consumer Council is urging the government to introduce restrictions on the levels of formamide found in children’s play mats, saying the toxic substance can be harmful to kids.

This came after the watchdog tested 20 foam play mats available on the market, and found a third of contained formamide levels exceeding EU standards.

One sample even exceeded European limits by a factor of nine.

The chemical, which can enter the body through the skin and the respiratory tract, is irritating to the skin, and prolonged exposure may pose harm to the reproductive system and unborn foetuses.

The council’s chief executive Gilly Wong insisted parents do not have to throw away or stop using mats they have already bought.

“The most practical way probably we would advise is to air out the play mats, because it will reduce the emission of formamide,” she said. “The cleaning of the hands and the feet would follow, because usually they would touch it with their body.

“If you use it properly, if you clean the feet and hands of your kids properly after every usage, that should protect them pretty well already.”

The council said new play mats should also be cleaned and aired out, and that parents should wait till any odour dissipates before letting children use them.

Wong noted that different jurisdictions, including the EU and Shenzhen, had already set limits on formamide content, and urged Hong Kong to do the same.

“In order to offer the best protection to kids in Hong Kong in using this very commonly used product, it is really time to review the requirements in Hong Kong,” she said. “We really hope the government would follow the international trend and set the regulations.”

Meanwhile, six of the products tested also failed European standards and had small parts breaking off when they were twisted or pulled.

The council said parents should choose play mats carefully and check their condition regularly to prevent children from swallowing parts and suffocating.