Up until 2011, parents breathed a sigh of relief at the mention of the EVA foam mats. They were soft and shock-absorbent enough to cushion kids as they rolled on them and played with their toys. Their construction did not hurt tender elbows and knees, they fell and tumbled. Parents had discovered a wonderful way to keep their kids safe and comfortable as they played. In short, foam mats were the ally they needed in bringing up happy, healthy kids. The ANSES report released on July 15, 2011, changed all that. ANSES was the French agency commissioned to conduct the study about the potential health risks of formamide exposure from EVA foam mats. Its report resulted in EVA foam mats being banned in France and Belgium. According to its findings, formamide, classified as a reprotoxic substance, adversely affected development in infants and affects reproductivity -- sexual function and fertility in adult males and females. Though the tests had only been conducted on rats, data from rats that were exposed to formamide throughout their lifetimes suggest a potential carcinogenic effect (tumors). More research was needed to make a confident assertion about this, but the potential carcinogenic effects of prolonged exposure could not be excluded, the report said. Formamide is used as a solvent, plasticiser or an additive in the chemical, pharmaceutical, plastics and polymer industries. Technically, formamide is not ‘used’ in the manufacturing process but is a ‘by-product’ of the process. This means manufacturers cannot be faulted when they say the chemical is not used in the production. Other independent studies were conducted that seemed to suggest that the risks were not as magnified as the ANSES report painted them to be, but they all generally agreed on some things:
- The greatest degree of formamide exposure came almost exclusively through inhalation. Exposure through sucking, chewing, or swallowing a piece of the mat was negligible.
- The highest levels of formamide emissions occurs in the first one or two weeks of use. After this, the amount of formamide reduces to almost negligible amounts. This means that if EVA foam mats are allowed to sit outside on the veranda or in a garage for a couple of weeks or more to “off-gas”, they would be considerably safer to use.
- Adults are almost never affected by formamide, but children were vulnerable to it..