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Belgian foam playmat ban – should you be worried?

Yesterday, Belgium announced  a new ban on foam puzzle mats, due to the presence of formamides, a type of chemical used to soften the foam for the mats. These chemicals are byproducts of the manufacturing process and residues can be left behind on the foam.

For a country to immediately outlaw the sale of a product indicates a fairly serious level of concern. Further evidence: There will be a 20,000 Euro fine for any retailer found selling them. But there’s no information yet about updated safety standards and which foam playmats might be safe (they don’t all contain these chemicals).

Parents on this side of the world are understandably concerned. The two brands of foam playmats we carry are both very popular. I’ve been tracking this issue with both manufacturers today, and here’s what I know.

Skip Hop

According to a post on their Facebook page today, their Playspot has been tested specifically for formamides and received the lowest possible score, at less than 2 millionths of a gram per cubic meter. This is the minimum measurable result using today’s testing technology, so essentially it’s an undetectable amount of formamides, confirming that those chemicals are not used in the manufacturing process. Sigh of relief.


When I spoke to them, they were waiting to get a full testing report to share with parents who have concerns. The woman on the phone assured me that their playmats have passed all necessary safety standards in the US and Europe, which sounds good, but it’s not really the point here. If formamides were not on anyone’s radar (sort of like BPA up until a couple of years ago), they wouldn’t necessarily be a factor in the published safety standards. As soon as I get their report, I’ll post an update.


I received from Edushape copies of their ASTM testing report (which is basically irrelevant, since the ASTM is concerned about lead, not formamides), as well as a scan of a test that was specifically looking for formamides (much more helpful). That test did not detect any formamides in the Edushape playmats. The limit of quantification on those test results was 5mg/kg.


  1. You say the chemical is a residual byproduct that remains on the mat, but you don’t say what that means in terms of risk for those using it (i.e. potential increased cancer risk, etc). Can you please speak to that?

  2. Looks like France just pulled all mats from shelves, too. 🙁

    My question is this: are any foam products completely free of formamides? I was considering buying my son foam blocks for Christmas and this has made me pause.

    Thanks for your informative post.

  3. Caroline, I tend to lean away from being too alarmist about these things, at least until the facts are clear. It seems like formamides are on the radar of reputable toy manufacturers working with foam, and they are testing to make sure their products are free of it. Both Skip Hop and Edushape have been unilaterally reassuring about the safety of their products.

    Sam, formamides are a known carcinogen, meaning that scientists have been able to cause cancer in laboratory mice and rats after repeated daily doses of the chemical. That’s never a good sign.

  4. If its residual does that mean a good soak/scrub will get it off?

  5. Hi – i’m writing from Skip Hop just to clarify our statement to those of you asking about Formamide. Our products are tested free of Formamide to the limits of the test, using the ISO methodology for standard use. It’s similar to testing rugs and carpeting. This is not a required test by any standard but we’re doing it anyway due to the current issue.

    By saying it’s a byproduct, what we mean is that, even if a supplier says it’s not deliberately added to their formulation, it still needs to be tested for if one wants to know if their product off-gasses this. This is the only way a company can determine if it exists in the product. We now do this test, and in the case of the Playspot, it is undetectable to the limits of the test (2 millionths of a gram per cubic meter). This same foam is in a LOT of products in your household. not to mention medical devices and so much more.

    In today’s modern world it’s impossible to buy products that are man-made and avoid trace amounts of substances that are carcinogenic. And some common sense rules apply – don’t let your child teeth on your house keys or put non baby products in their mouths for example.

    What’s important is that the brands making these products take responsibility for the latest concerns and science and continue to refine their testing and processes to make products that exceed standards and then test to make sure of that. We want to sell products that we ourselves would let our children use.

    All that said, we are parents and business people, not scientists and we do need to rely on governments to set standards just to be able to bring products to market that meet today’s safety requirements. In 99% of the world, Formamide is not part of any testing procedure or safety standard, and even France and Belgium have not determined a standard yet (much to our frustration). Banning all EVA foam play mats is certainly headline grabbing but in our opinion does nothing to regulate the safety of EVA foam products, many of which we are sure our safe. We can say thought that Playspot does not off gas formamide and you should feel comfortable using it.

  6. I also got news of this issue from friends and family in Europe. As mentioned above, France has since followed Belgium and ordered these types of EVA foam floor mats off the market until they could do their own testing. I wrote a piece about it here summarizing the issue here:

    It’s good to hear that the manufacturers are being responsive to retailer and parent questions. What was concerning about the European tests is that the great majority of the brands tested by the Belgian authorities were found to contain / leach formamide (only 2 of more than 30 were cleared), so it’s probably not too crazy to say the same ratio applies in the US.

    This issue was raise by various consumer associations some time ago, so some companies may have changed their manufacturing processes and hence can claim that their products are formamide free. Ultimately, it’s a cost issue (formamide is the cheaper solution to making the tiles soft and flexible).

    Also, keep in mind that many of these products look the same, so just because one manufacturer categorically can show that their products are formamide free, it doesn’t mean that others are.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the formamide dissipates over time, so hopefully the manufacturers are being honest and are testing new mats, not old ones.

  7. Thanks for your info Michael – could you please let me know specifically which ISO test was used?

  8. Hi Liz. We followed the ISO 16000 standard in our tests and, when following these standards formamide was not detectable in Playspot. This is the same test used for floor coverings, carpets etc – Belgium and France have not given manufacturers any testing standard so we’ve chosen the strictest one that’s internationally recognized. It’s impossible for any company to guarantee “0” of anything as all tests have a minimum detectable limit (even tests for lead), and not detectable means below some tiny number and it doesn’t mean “0.” We at Skip Hop are parents too – and we care about safety more than ANYTHING else we do. Because we sell around the world, our products meet whatever the strictest global standard is at the time. Also, EVA, the material in question, is the same material used in flip flops, Crocs, all sorts of bath products and bath toys and so many other household, every day items. It’s not a material exclusively for floor mats. And we really believe that EVA products made by reputable brands are very safe.

    I know someone commented that a large number of floor tiles did poorly on the tests. But we believe that these original tests were performed improperly, with incorrect, non real-world loads. For example, the amount of product you put in a testing chamber – per ISO 16000 – is supposed to replicate the volume of the product in a real world room. If a test does not follow these standards, it will produce a false result. We believe this may have happened in the original tests that are being referred to. We are confident that we performed our tests correctly and the other manufacturers stepping forward with their own results followed standard procedures as well.

  9. Could Magic Beans kindly provide an update on this issue? A friend in France told me about this (I live in the UK, but did a lot of my shopping for baby and toddler items in the US at Magic Beans). I am quite concerned as a quick google within the UK does not provide any related articles or stories about this issue. Would love an unbiased update ASAP. Thanks.

  10. I had a feeling that these mats were no good, question is what do I use instead.

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