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Rubber toys: Is Bacteria Lurking In Your Bathtub?

All children love to splash around and play with the rubber duck squirting the water everywhere during bath-time. But did you know that those cheerful looking rubber ducks could be a haven for disease spreading bacteria? 

According to the ETH Zurich - Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and the University of Illinois, the toys have the ideal conditions for bacterial and fungal growth.

What Causes The Bacteria?

“Warm, humid bathrooms provide ideal conditions for the formation of bacterial and fungal biofilms – for example, on shower curtains or behind cabinets. This applies in particular to rubber ducks and other bath toys,” a statement by ETH Zurich says.

“Dense growths of bacteria and fungi are found on the inner surface of these flexible toys, and a murky liquid will often be released when they are squeezed by a child.”

The researchers also found that the toys contained between 5 million and 75 million bacteria cells per square centimetre on the inner surface. Potentially pathogenic bacteria were identified in 80% of all the toys studied, including Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which “often implicated in hospital-acquired infections”.

But tap water is not to blame for the microbial growth.

“The toys themselves provide a source of nutrients: the plastic material – often low-quality polymers – release substantial amounts of organic carbon compounds. During bathing, other key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as additional bacteria, are contributed by the human body (bodily fluids such as urine and sweat), external contaminants and personal care products.”

Frederik Hammes, a supervisor in the study, says the most vulnerable are children who may enjoy squirting water from bath toys in their faces.

“This could strengthen the immune system, which would be positive, but it can also result in eye, ear, or even gastrointestinal infections,” he says.

So how can one prevent your beloved rubber toys from becoming infectious hazards in your bath tub?

Either clean it inside out after each use or close the hole immediately to prevent squirting.

But Hammes encourage that tighter regulations on polymeric materials should be used to produce bath toys. “This has already proved effective for problematic chemicals; now, the release of carbon should also be taken into consideration, as is already the case in the testing of plastic pipes for drinking water.”

 

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