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Characterization of odorants in inflatable aquatic toys and swimming learning devices—which substances are causative for the characteristic odor and potentially harmful?


Based on the observation of intense and offensive smells in the product group of aquatic toys, four representative products were exemplarily chosen and sensorially characterized by an expert panel. Panellists reported mostly almond- and rubber-like notes for three of the four samples, whereas the smell of the fourth sample was dominated by organic solvent-associated notes such as “nail polish-like.” To elucidate the molecular reasons of these smells, we isolated the volatile fraction of the product by solvent extraction and high vacuum distillation, and identified the main odorants by aroma extract dilution analysis (AEDA), followed by one- and two-dimensional gas chromatography, with parallel mass spectrometric and olfactometric detection. Additionally, the materials of the samples were identified by means of differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), attenuated total reflectance spectroscopy (ATR-spectroscopy), and Beilstein halogen test. Between 32 and 46 odors could be detected in each sample by means of AEDA, whereby five to 13 of these compounds were detectable with by far the highest dilution factors, and were found to primarily correlate with the smells of the respective products. Focussing the subsequent identification on these causative substances led to the successful identification of the majority of these odorants. Among them were several mono- or di-unsaturated carbonyl compounds and their epoxidized derivatives, which are typical odorous artefacts from fatty acid oxidation, but also odor-active organic solvents such as cyclohexanone, isophorone, and phenol.

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The authors thank Symrise AG for providing the rotundone standard. They also thank Marius Jesdinszki and Zuzana Scheuerer from the Department of Materials Development at Fraunhofer IVV for performing the material identification analyses.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrea Buettner.

Ethics declarations

There are no competing financial or nonfinancial interests to declare.

The study was conducted in agreement with the Declaration of Helsinki. The study (registration number 180_16B) was approved by the Ethics 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).

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Wiedmer, C., Velasco-Schön, C. & Buettner, A. Characterization of odorants in inflatable aquatic toys and swimming learning devices—which substances are causative for the characteristic odor and potentially harmful?. Anal Bioanal Chem 409, 3905–3916 (2017).

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  • Aroma extract dilution analysis (AEDA)
  • Gas chromatography olfactometry (GC-O)
  • Products of daily use
  • Plastic
  • Cyclohexanone
  • Isophorone