Important News for Parents & Teachers in Korea

Admittedly not my usual sort of post, but then this news hit very close to home:

FAIL: Foam floor mats banned in France, Belgium. Shouldn’t we all know about this?

I actually love these mats. They were great to give some cushion to a crawling baby or unsteady toddler. I was even going to do a post on these being must-haves. Then a couple weeks ago I received news from family and friends in Europe that these were pulled off the market in Belgium and now France because they leached ammonia and formamide, a a toxic chemical. Other EU countries are expected to follow suit.  Not surprisingly, while this was headline news in Europe, it barely registered in the US other than on a couple of blogs.  I must say that I take all consumer petitions and outcries with a pinch of salt, but when you actually have a government entity admitting to it, then I take notice. So I did some additional research to see what this was all about before chucking them to the curb…

Suffice to say, the author found very good reason to indeed chuck them to the curb, as I have just done to my own daughters’ small hand-held ones.

Known as noliebang maetuh (놀이방매트; playroom mats) and/or  puhjul maetuh (퍼즐매트; puzzle mats) in Korean, after that my next thought was to see the reaction of Korean parents and the Korean government to the European ban. But while my wife was at pains to point out that the former are well aware of the dangers of the Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA; 에틸렌초산비닐수지) that they’re made of, that a quick browse of advertisements for them shows that they carried many warning labels about EVA accordingly, and indeed that she paid extra for our own floor mat because it wasn’t made out of it, unfortunately a search of Naver and Google for specifically formamide (포름아미드) plus 놀이방매트 or 퍼즐매트 produced no relevant hits whatsoever.  Like in the US, it seems it just didn’t register here.

Please help rectify this by passing on this news to anyone with children and/or in regular contact with them, although I admit I can just imagine the reaction of principals and kindergarten owners to the suggestion that they throw away all the mats in their buildings and invest in expensive non-EVA ones. Probably best then, would be for the news to be translated into Korean, but, well, frankly I’m much too busy myself for the next few weeks (and am much much better at doing it the other way round).

Any takers? Any other suggestions on how to publicize the news in Korea?

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20 thoughts on “Important News for Parents & Teachers in Korea

  1. formamide is never good, but c’mon! European regulators et al have something of a reputation of making proverbials out of molehills.

    I recall having not foam mats, but carpets back in my day (we were apparently made of tougher stuff given the carpet burn) and I am sure you could conduct a study that finds all manner of horrible things in carpets – bugs, mites, dead skin etc etc, all of which can be harmful in their own ways.

    I recall talk of both glue and varnish on apartment floors leeching poisons into the atmosphere when the Ondol was turned up to high a couple of years ago.

    And while I would concede that my preference would be for unbleached sustainable cotton based linen for my daughter to crawl around on, until a Belgian study (honestly who trusts the Belgians – they can’t even form a government) shows me kids are being killed by rogue floor mats I can’t see all that much of a problem.

    Are the ones in Korea made from the same stuff as the ones in Europe?

    How many chemicals etc do we breath in standing on Jong-ro waiting for a bus?

    Colour me skeptical.

    • Stafford, linked to what you were saying, I do think arguments that oversanitized environments aren’t giving children’s immune systems the kick start/challenge they need to develop have some validity. But as for your own that I and my daughters are exposed to numerous other chemicals in our environment, and so I shouldn’t really bother with these particular ones, well, I don’t give much credence to that. Granted, like you say traffic fumes may be an even greater problem, and I’m not saying something shouldn’t be done about those either, but it certainly can’t harm – and is a good way to influence manufacturers – to boycott toys that emit substances that have been proven to cause cancer, birth defects, and inhibit child development.

      If you don’t see that as “much of a problem” with your own kids, well, that’s your choice. Meanwhile, yeah, like I said in the post, the ones in Korea are made of the same stuff. And I’m going to assume what you said about the Belgians was tongue in cheek?

      • Absolutely valid points and of course no one wants their kids exposed to harmful substances, whether they occur in the environment or are a result of something introduced to the home like these mats.

        And indeed the consumer info angle is well received, we have a right to know what goes into not only these mats but the other toys, clothes and foods we give our children (let alone ourselves!)

        But I can’t help but look at this as a numbers thing – how many sets of Mats containing EVA have been sold and how many kids have become ill as a result of exposure to these mats?

        I put to you that there have been few if any. Had there been I am sure we would have heard about it by now.

        Which is not to say a longitudinal study isn’t in order, and the effects of long term exposure being explored – but if thats the case then the mats become like Bus exhaust and Yellow Dust – toxins in the environment for sure – but not ones that can be directly seen as having a cause and (negative) effect, such as death.

        And of course Australians aren’t pussies like the Belgians and the French.

        (Am I allowed to say “pussies” on your blog?)

        • Glad to hear we basically agree. But still, I think you’re really looking at things the wrong way if you talk of few if any kids becoming ill as a result of the exposure to the mats: if they give off harmful levels of formamide, then of course some have been. Sure, it’d be virtually impossible to identify the mats as the direct cause of the illness and not, say, exposure to traffic fumes or one of hundreds of other toxic substances they get exposed to on a daily basis instead. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be bothered about, and I certainly can’t imagine any scenario where removing demonstrated toxic substances from children’s toys isn’t the best course to take.

          Meanwhile, swearing on my blog is just fine, but never insults to people or nationalities. So hey, I realize saying the Belgians and the French are pussies has deep roots in Anglo-Australasian culture and all, and at first I laughed at this part of Blackadder Back and Forth just as much as anybody, these days it’s really tiresome to hear that sort of thing (especially as it’s done to Korean guys so often).

  2. A lot of things we eat and drink are banned in all or much of the EU (along with several medications), and in my experience, if you bring any attention to it, people label you a paranoid hippie. (And I consider myself a fairly skeptical, research-based, evidence-oriented, anti-“newage”-nonsense type, so that really smarts.) “Everyone knows” the US has the best food and drug protections in the world, after all, so whatever the FDA says is safe, is safe! I don’t know what attitudes are like there, but …

    I’d avoid these mats, but I wouldn’t expect anyone much to take me seriously. :/

    Good luck.

    • Clarissa, are you talking about Americans or Koreans? Forgive me if you meant the former, but for everyone’s interest if you meant the latter, then I wouldn’t presume to dispute your own experience, and I’ll always recall how Korean parents took a whole week to get rid of a law requiring child seats in cars for children for instane, as they didn’t like the hassle. But on the other hand, Korean mothers (no accident I didn’t say “parents”!) are still notoriously fussy about the cost and safety of things they buy for their children, and indeed technically my wife didn’t say that they “were well aware” of the dangers of EVA (albeit not this new one), but rather that they were “paranoid” about them. And like I said, she’s an active member of several Korean parenting forums, and the numerous debates on those about the health dangers of toys and foods and so on are generally very well-informed, and results of studies etc. by no means taken for granted.

  3. Hi! Appreciate the post. I have also been enjoying your blog since I teach and research on “inter-Asian” popular culture at a university in Taiwan. But I am leaving the comment as a concerned mother of a 2-year-old boy. Those same kind of EVA-material tiles have been very popular in Taiwan and I have also set up some in my apartment. I ordered a specific kind that claimed to have passed some kind of safety standards (formamide-free) but I am suspicious of everything these days. I have not come across a news report concerning bans in Europe in the local Taiwanese media. There was a news report in China though.

    What about in South Korea? Have you seen such claims on the tile products?

    best wishes!

    • Thanks for the compliments Eva, and you’re welcome. And I’m glad to hear your own foam tiles are formamide free (or at least claimed to be), in which case they shouldn’t have the problem discussed here.

      Unfortunately though, I haven’t seen any similar formamide-free claims on Korean tiles, and don’t expect to given the lack of information about the dangers of formamide from mats on the Korean-language internet.

      Whereabouts in Taiwan are you by the way? I’ve been a couple of times, and have a close friend living in Taipei.

  4. Thanks for the info. Might be a tad reactionary, but we’ve decided to pull the ones we’ve had for years. My 5-year-old grew up on them, but my 2-month-old won’t get that opportunity.

    We’ll go looking for the better ones. They are really nice to have on the floor, especially when the baby starts walking. Much better landing surface. Not to protect the floors from all sorts of nasty marks that come along with young kids.

    • You’re welcome, and I completely understand. But there are non-EVA mats out there though – we have a huge one for our living room floor ourselves – so it’s just a matter of extra expense really.

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