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Update: Slime safety warning – is this kids’ craze safe?

Dangerous slime may sound like the plot of a cheesy 1950s horror B movie, but if you’ve got a primary school-aged child or grandchild, you may be aware of the craze for toy slime – and its potential dangers.

Update: 13/12/2018

We’ve tested toy slimes for the second time this year, and again we’ve found alarming safety issues.

See the unsafe toy slimes and putties from the 13 we put to the test

We’ve passed our findings on to all the manufacturers with available contact details, and the retailers we bought the products from, asking for the slimes we tested that exceeded boron limits to be removed from sale.

Nikki Stopford, our director of research and publishing, said:

Slime will feature in many kids’ letters to Santa this Christmas, however we’ve found more worrying evidence that children could be put at risk by these toys.

Parents should have confidence that the products that they buy for their children will be safe, but our latest investigation has uncovered harmful products being sold even by big retailers.

Again, we’re calling on manufacturers to stop making unsafe products, and for the government and retailers to step up and do a much better job of ensuring only safe products get into people’s homes and into the hands of children.

What’s wrong with boron? (17/07/2018)

Often available in multi-packs and in a host of lurid colours, you can also make slime yourself at home using household products such as contact lens solution and PVA glue.

However, we’ve carried out testing on 11 brands of toy slime and discovered that eight of them have levels of boron that are above the safety limits permitted by EU standards.

Boron is a chemical element that gives slime its gooey texture. Exposure to excessive levels of boron has been linked to skin irritation, diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps in the short term, and harm to the unborn child of pregnant women in the long term.

It’s why the EU safety standards state that toy slimes should have boron levels that fall below 300mg/kg.

The worst slime we tested had more than four times the permitted level of boron.

Removed from sale

Of the 11 brands we tested that exceeded the safe limits of boron, eight of them were bought from sellers on online retailer Amazon.

Of the three slimes which fell below the EU safety standard, two were bought from high streets shops – Smyths and The Works – and one from Amazon.

When we approached Amazon for comment, it told us:

“All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available”

Are you worried about the safety of these products? And do you think retailers are doing enough to prevent unsafe products from getting onto shelves in the first place? Let us know your thoughts.


Been giving some thought to the ideas I proposed for a new organisation. First question is why a new outfit?

I suspect that’s the crux of the matter. TS was a force to be reckoned with in days of yore, and it had good people who knew their job. But successive budget cuts, dilution, transfers of powers and responsibilities and the installation of a gatekeeper have, I think, left us with what is perceived – rightly or wrongly – as a toothless dog.

For a body to watch out for the interests of the consumer, and to do that job effectively, it has to enjoy the confidence of those whose interests it’s safeguarding. We know how easy it is to lose the confidence of those a consumer organisation purports to safeguard, so perhaps a fresh start with a newly branded outfit might alleviate some of the misgivings that currently exist.

Existing experienced staff from TS would simply transfer to the new team, keep the expertise. The new team would have to be expanded, and it would probably have to have separate departments to deal with its expanded responsibilities.

But it would demonstrate to the business community that the government was serious about consumer protections, many of which we might no longer have after Brexit, and it would centralise the legal power and the serious case management teams in one physical building, something that could be important.

Although we had fun playing with names I think retaining ‘Trading’ in the title could be very important. However, how much success we’ll have with any suggestion under the current government is very open to question.

Given that “trading standards” as a title has been taken over by the National Trading Standards organisation, I think that the local effort should be called “consumer protection” and certainly be a much more unified force to reckon with rather than the disparate and lack-lustre operations that have characterised local authority management in recent years. It’s not their fault – as well as imposing financial restrictions the government has taken away many of the safeguards that consumers had in their favour when buying things so the investigation and enforcement functions have waned.

I am thinking of the price marking of drinks on premises orders that were introduced in the 1970’s following vociferous campaigns by consumer organisations and required pubs to show the prices of drinks to prevent overcharging [especially in mixed ’rounds’]. This is no longer a legal requirement and most licensed premises no longer have any form of notice or display of the price of drinks. One motivation [or perceived justification] for the change was that most establishments had automated tills with display screens visible to purchasers so ‘mistakes’ were less likely and the totalling costs were visible. Yes, really!

I feel that if the government was serious about restoring the consumer protection functions to an effective standard local authorities could rise to the challenge and provide an efficient, economical and accessible service thus taking pressure of Citizens Advice which I would have thought had enough on its plate already and in any case is not a statutory organisation.

I think it would be better if National Trading Standards – a company that works with business – chose an alternative name (how about Business Trading Standards) because of the confusion with local Trading Standards offices that are funded by our council tax payments and intended to support members of the public who have problems with products and services. It’s a pity that we don’t have someone who could explain how the work of local TS offices is coordinated nationally, but until I’m convinced otherwise I assume that we need a national organisation that ensures that this happens. The exact role of the new Office of Product Safety and Standards has yet to be defined. I sincerely hope that the OPSS will provide us with the opportunity to make an input into improvement of certain standards.

I agree there is a need for national coordination of the local services. I expect this is probably achieved imperfectly through the Local Government Association at present and through the professional bodies that trading standards officers belong to. There is probably still considerable duplication in certain areas as well as gaps which no one wants to fill.

I do hope that we can get someone from the OPSS to provide us with non-confidential information about how consumer protection works in the UK and what is planned to deal with the well established problem that Trading Standards can no longer be relied on to help consumers with problems with goods and services.

I think a lot of what we want from a restored consumer protection function goes beyond the remit of the OPSS and they would probably dodge the invitation. We need involvement from the Secretary of State for BEIS or at least from whoever now sits part-time at the consumer affairs desk.

John wrote: “I am thinking of the price marking of drinks on premises orders that were introduced in the 1970’s following vociferous campaigns by consumer organisations and required pubs to show the prices of drinks to prevent overcharging [especially in mixed ’rounds’]. This is no longer a legal requirement and most licensed premises no longer have any form of notice or display of the price of drinks. One motivation [or perceived justification] for the change was that most establishments had automated tills with display screens visible to purchasers so ‘mistakes’ were less likely and the totalling costs were visible. Yes, really!”

I understand that there was only ever a requirement to show some representative prices. In airports and hotels it is normal to provide customers with receipts so that they can if they wish claim the costs of their purchases from their employers, though it would be good to know the prices before purchase.

As an observation, most of the pubs I visit do at least the display the prices of simple beverages like real ale. Wetherspoons goes further than that and seems to provide fairly comprehensive printed “wet menus” on each table, along with their food menus.

I believe it is now also possible to download a Wetherspoons app for Table Service and then order food and/or drinks for delivery to one’s table via the internet, without any need to first stand in line at the bar.

In most respects, Wetherspoon does an excellent job and clarity of pricing is one. I wish that they did not put the notices about supporting smaller breweries on the handpumps dispensing Abbot and other beers produced by the GK brewery. 🙁 In some towns their low prices take trade away from some small traditional pubs.

With three thousand pubs, Greene King is certainly not a small brewery. However, I must declare an interest. They do brew some exceedingly good beer and serve it well consistently so I am bit partial to it. My ‘local’, five minutes walk away, is an excellent boozer and displays the prices and ABV of all the beers and popular wines clearly on a blackboard visible to all. My favourites there are Southwold Bitter and Ghost Ship, both by Adnams [eight other draught beers are usually available]. Always in tip-top condition. I have never seen an iota of short measure either so it gives rise to no extra work for Trading Standards.

Interestingly, it seems to have its own measures for wine instead of having lined glasses. A large glass is getting on for a third of a bottle! No wonder I get little change from a tenner for a pint of beer and a glass of wine.

I will agree about Adnams, John. I used to like Adnams Extra, which had more flavour than the standard bitter but was discontinued years ago.

Greene King have taken over and closed established breweries. Many of the beers that come out of the Westgate Brewery under various brand names have a distinctive and (to me) unpleasant taste. I suspect that it’s due to using hop oil rather than more expensive hops. How GK can brand an extremely bland 3.6% abv beer as ‘IPA’ I know not, since a proper IPA is heavily hopped and strong – between 5 and 10% abv according to Wikipedia. Best drunk in halves, otherwise it won’t just be the beer that is drunk.

We could go for a pint of Adnams, John. Now how did we get off toy slime and safety?

Dunno, nice to see my old friend Stephen is still Finance Director at Adnams:

adnams co uk about meet-the-board

Wavechange, long ago at “farmland polytechnic” we enjoyed many beers from both Adnams and GK.

But, back then, we thought IPA was short for “I’m plastered again!”.

It was a sad day when GK shut down its small Rayment’s brewery at Furneux Pelham in Hertfordshire and stopped brewing the excellent BBA [best bitter ale].

I am so sorry. This has absolutely nothing to do with slime.

Rayment features in the 1979 Good Beer Guide, the first issue I bought, as a subsidiary of GK. It’s possible that the name may be reused. For example Joule’s of Stone in Staffordshire was resurrected but bears no relation to their original as far as I am aware. I don’t pay much attention to breweries and beers nowadays since it’s now easy to find something acceptable without too much effort.

Derek – Thanks for the alternative for India Pale Ale, which will go down well at my next reunion with old friends from university.

Maybe we could explore other aspects of toy safety. I believe that Which? campaigned successfully to get rid of toys painted with lead paints.

What concerns me is when we have a new government dept like the OPSS looking at a broad set of problems the first thing they do is issue a huge all-encompassing report that is full of aspirations and intents but contains no information on specifically what they will do to achieve these intents and what their priorities are. It looks good to their bosses but I worry sbout what it achieves.

As we need immediate protection against unsafe products my initial solution would be to fund local TS properly straight away; at leat that uses existing people and organisations that have some expertise and gives them the resources to be more effective and build up yet more expertise. Then, if some genuine reorganisation is desirable (not just change for change’s sake) we will have people who can be transferred into new departments.

We are in danger of prevarication otherwise, just as we are with a product recall system – a weak and non-specific report published over 3 years ago and nowhere near any kind of realisation.

What about the procrastination of BSI and other European organisations over containment of fire in white goods, when we seem to be years behind what has been achieved in the US? I have posted many photos showing how fires in dryers etc. can burn or melt plastic panels, allowing fire to spread.

In the US, plastic hoses for vented dryers are not permitted (according to what I have read) but they are readily available as spares in the UK. I’m very glad that we have standards but in some areas I have severe doubts that they are adequate and call for urgent action to make them fit for purpose.

None of us know whether the formation of OPSS is the best strategy but it has at least helped focus attention on safety and Which? has a campaign to make products safe.

There are a lot of other problems that consumers have with miss-selling, denial of consumer rights, rogue traders, bad repair and maintenance work, excessive interest rates, unfair terms and conditions, short measure, misrepresentation, false markets, defective guarantees, and so on and so forth, that all used to be dealt with locally by the trading standards and consumer protection services of the more enlightened local authorities. I accept that the legislative landscape has changed and that the internet has altered the face of retail for ever, but many of these issues are going completely undealt with to the detriment of customers everywhere.

I appreciate this and although it is harder for traders to deliberately make their scales overweigh and petrol pumps under-deliver there are many new needs for consumer protection.

I am keen that we start looking at whether standards that are in place to benefit the consumer are as effective as they should be, particularly in relation to safety.

I’m not sure what criticising the international standards organisation has to do with this. They have produced extremely good standards to protect consumer safety. It is ensuring that these standards are being observed by certain manufacturers that needs dealing with – and that is currently trading standards job.

“Procrastination over containment of fire” assumes this to be a vital solution. With respect, none of us are experts in this field and while we can make considered comments there are others with far more knowledge and expertise who deal with standards. As I have pointed out before there is a working group on fire in electric domestic appliances. But you are free, of course, to ask this very question of BSI. If you have, have you had a response? I have contacted UL and ANSI to ask exactly what the situation is in the US (and Canada and Mexico) regarding fire containment and what standards are applied. I hope for a response and will post it here. I’d like to hear the views from these organisations, if they will tell us, rather than assume we have the solution and why don’t they listen 🙂 .

Why criticise standards? The main problem is not checking they are being observed. we need to tackle that major cause of consumer detriment to make proper headway.

I have been very specific in my criticisms, apart from the general one that all standards relevant to consumer products should be made freely available for use by the public. Even if most standards are good there is no reason to avoid criticism of ones that we are concerned about. I continue to hope that having recognised that plastic backs on fridges and freezers are poor design then they might recognise that it’s not a good idea to permit use of plastic parts in the cases of white goods.

Plastic backs on fridges are very rarely a problem. As Which? say “Consumers who already own a fridge freezer, fridge or freezer with a plastic back should be reassured that the likelihood of a refrigerator fire is very low”.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/article/fridge-freezer-safety – Which?“.

It is, however, a good move to have them limited or substituted and I’d like to see what the latest revision to the international standard proposes. BSI made its own comments on this to CENELEC who will issue the European version of the standard.

I hope you might forgive me when I react to generalised – or what can be taken as generalised – comments such as “whether standards that are in place to benefit the consumer are as effective as they should be, particularly in relation to safety.“. We have, in my view, an extremely good international standards system, particularly on safety. There is an inevitable time lag in keeping them up to date in areas where technology advances rapidly as the consequences of those advances may not become apparent quickly but, on the whole, with the constant monitoring that goes on I believe standards offer the consumer great protection.

With Which? now apparently taking an active part in BSI’s work, having joined one (at least) of its committees then we may get an informed insight into work that is progressing. However, any one – you, me, anyone else – can contact BSI with any suggestion, proposal, criticism of a standard and they will be heard. I would hope that Members, and others, could also make such comments to Which? for them to aggregate and put to the relevant committee.

Slime experiments can be conducted in primary schools in England and Wales. Safety information is available from the School Science Organisation CLEAPSS. The information is at http://primary.cleapss.org.uk/Resource-File/P042-Slime-time.pdf .The information is only available to schools (and their staff) which are members of CLEAPSS. I see no point in buying this material when children can undertake in in school, where teachers have all the required safety information.