Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 409, Issue 22, pp 5249–5258 | Cite as

Resolving the chemical structures of off-odorants and potentially harmful substances in toys—example of children’s swords

  • Philipp Denk
  • Cristina Velasco-Schön
  • Andrea BuettnerEmail author
Research Paper


Most children’s toys on the market are primarily made out of plastic and other complex composite materials. Consumer complaints about offensive odors or irritating effects associated with toy products have increased in recent years. One example is the strongly perceivable negative odor reported for a particular series of toy swords. Characterizing the presence of contaminants, including those that have the potential to be deleterious to health, in such products is a significant analytical challenge due to the high baseline abundance of chemical constituents of the materials used in the products. In the present study, the nature of offensive odorants associated with toy sword products was examined by gas chromatography (GC). After initial sensory evaluations, the volatile compounds from the toy products were recovered using solvent extraction and solvent-assisted flavor evaporation. The extracts were analyzed using GC-olfactometry (GC-O) and two-dimensional GC-O coupled with mass spectrometry (GC-GC-MS/O). A total of 26 odor-active compounds, including aromatic hydrocarbons and phenols, were identified among numerous non-odorous volatile by-products. These substances also included polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which were analyzed by GC-MS. Representative substances were naphthalene and 1,2-dihydronaphthalene that exhibited moldy, mothball-like odor impressions, and phenol derivatives with leather-like, phenolic, horse-stable-like smells. The odorants detected correlated with the assigned attributes from the sensory analyses. This study clearly shows that the detection and identification of such odorous contaminants can provide key indications of potentially harmful yet unknown substances in everyday products such as toys.

Graphical abstract


Plastic Aroma extract dilution analysis (AEDA) Gas chromatography-olfactometry (GC-O) Retention index (RI) Two-dimensional gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (2D-GC-MS) 


Compliance with ethical standards

The study was conducted in agreement with the Declaration of Helsinki. The study (registration number 180_16B) was approved by the Ethical Committee of the Medical Faculty, Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. Informed consent was obtained from all subjects participating in the study.

Funding sources

This study was funded by the Bavarian State Ministry of Environment and Consumer Safety (StMUV).

Competing financial interests statement

There are no competing financial or non-financial interests to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philipp Denk
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cristina Velasco-Schön
    • 3
  • Andrea Buettner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Emil Fischer Center, Department of Chemistry and PharmacyFriedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-NürnbergErlangenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Sensory AnalyticsFraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and PackagingFreisingGermany
  3. 3.Bayerisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit, Sachgebiet Bedarfsgegenstände (Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority, Department of Articles of Daily Use)ErlangenGermany

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