Avoid hazardous substances outdoors

Summer is just around the corner and thoughts are increasingly turning towards the beach, outdoor sports and hiking. But did you know that the equipment and accessories used for these activities can contain substances of very high concern which affect human health and the environment? Our mission is to tell you how to avoid them.

Sports, physical activity, recreation in nature and water are important parts of a healthy lifestyle. The equipment we use during these activities plays a role – it turns out that sport and recreation goods and equipment can contain particularly dangerous chemicals.

During sport or other physical activity, our metabolism speeds up and we start sweating, which is a normal reaction of the body. During sweating, our skin not only eliminates but also absorbs more intensively chemicals that may be present, for example, in sportswear or sports goods that come into close contact with the skin, such as an exercise mat. The same reaction with perspiration also occurs, for example, in beach mats. Chemicals may also be inhaled or taken up with dust.

In particular, soft plastics may be a source of many potentially harmful substances. Substances such as reprotoxic plasticisers, persistent paraffins or carcinogenic flame retardants can still be found in a variety of products, including sports and leisure goods. This was recently demonstrated by tests carried out in the LIFE AskREACH project: high concentrations of phthalates in soft gymnastic balls, also elevated concentrations in skipping ropes. The SCIP database of the European Chemicals Agency ECHA shows for instance that the reprotoxic substances dimethylformamide or ethylene glycol dimethyl ether (EGDME) may be present in sports footwear. Balls may contain persistent and bioaccumulating medium-chain chlorinated paraffins or substances which affect the hormonal system of animals. In sports watches and in tee off mats for golfing several substances of very high concern can be present concurrently.

We tend to use a variety of accessories in our sports and tourism activities – gloves, straps, balls, mats. Most of these items are made of plastics and plastic products. Plastics are mainly made from petrochemicals (fossil fuels) and various chemical additives are added to achieve the required properties. One group of added compounds are plasticisers (e.g. phthalates), which help to make the material softer and more flexible. Flexibility and softness are quite often what we value in sports goods.

For example, yoga mats are often made of PVC with additives such as phthalates that can cause headaches, nausea and dizziness, nasal irritation, allergic reactions, neurological problems, liver and kidney damage. To reduce your exposure to these chemicals, you can open the windows and air out your yoga mat (especially if it is recently purchased). A better option would be to choose a yoga mat that is made from organic cotton, wool, cork or jute. Natural materials are also worth considering when choosing a beach mat. To reduce direct body contact, one of the simplest solutions is to place a towel on the mat during physical activity or sunbathing.

Another important product group is anything to do with water – swimming caps, swimming noodles and all kinds of inflatable rubber animals or other items. Very often, when opening a package of sports equipment, you can smell a strong chemical odour. Smell can be sign to be cautious and thoroughly air this equipment.

What can I do to protect myself?
Natural materials can be used as much as possible, e.g. jump ropes made with wooden handles and natural fibre rope, iron dumbbells, cork mats. If there are no better alternatives available, you can ask the retailer or the manufacturer if the product contains substances of very high concern. We have a right to know and the Scan4Chem app makes it easier and more convenient to make a request to the retailer or manufacturer. Consumer requests will send an important signal to the trade and industry sector: we want to use safe products free from substances of very high concern and to be informed about their composition.
And more importantly, before you buy, ask yourself: is this product really necessary? Does it make me happy? Is there an alternative which involves less or no material consumption?

Use your right to know
You have the right to ask producers and retailers about the presence of the so-called Substances of very high concern (SVHCs) under the EU Chemicals Regulation REACH. SVHCs can be carcinogenic, reprotoxic and mutagenic, they can be persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic, or very persistent and very bioaccumulative, or of a similar level of concern, such as endocrine disruptive (affect the hormone system).

Let´s make a change
With the Scan4Chem app you can scan the barcode of a product and ask manufacturers and retailers about the presence of SVHCs.Use the Scan4Chem app and find out if your favourite producer of sports articles has phased out these substances from their production.

Download the app and send your requests. Together we can make products safer!