Young children explore the world with inexhaustible curiosity. And when they discover something new, one of the first things they do is – put it in their mouth. In the first few months of life, tactile sensitivity (especially of the lips and tongue) is particularly pronounced while the other senses are still in the process of developing. This is why children literally feast on their toys: with obvious delight, they chew around on animal figures and suck away at rubber ducks. Often, these are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a versatile plastic without which the modern world of toys is hardly imaginable.
To ensure the safety of soft PVC toys, at the end of last year the EU issued a regulation which from the year 2006 onwards prohibits the use of certain additives from the plasticizers group in toys intended for children under three years of age. Since 1997, BASF has been vigorously pursuing the broad-based research project "Sustainable plasticizers" with the target to develop alternative plasticizers for sensitive applications. "With Hexamoll® DINCH, we have developed an innovative plasticizer whose health safety is beyond all question", comments Heidrun Goth, marketing expert in BASF Petrochemicals Division. "This now allows us to offer toy manufacturers an ideal solution to adapting their products to the requirements of the new EU regulation", assures Goth. BASF specialists are on hand to help with switching production to plastic mixtures containing the new plasticizer.
Leaving out plasticizers completely isn't possible. Without them, PVC is brittle and snaps like a dry noodle. Like the boiling water that softens the pasta, the chemical additives in PVC act like a lubricant between the molecule chains of the polymer and make the plastic as soft and supple as is required for the intended application. The innovative BASF product Hexamoll® DINCH is also remarkable for its extremely low migration rate: the amount of plasticizer molecules released by the plastic into a surrounding medium. "BASF has invested more than e 4 million alone in intensive testing of the new product", explains BASF toxicologist and product safety expert Dr. Rainer Otter. "Hexamoll® DINCH is by far the most thoroughly tested new plasticizer on the market and has proven its safety".
Hexamoll® DINCH is thus also the plasticizer of first choice for use in many medical devices because in these cases, the plastic is in close contact with products which directly enter the patient's body. Enteral nutrition administered via stomach tube, for example, involves the use of bags and tubing made of soft PVC. Pfrimmer-Nutricia (Numico), one of the largest manufacturers of such feeding sets, has now switched its production completely to Hexamoll® DINCH. "In view of the concerns surrounding some plasticizers, we wanted to be the first in our sector to completely eliminate these substances and further improve patient safety", explains Dagmar Dehler of the marketing department of the medical devices manufacturer. "After all, with Hexamoll® DINCH a safe alternative is now available. And despite the somewhat higher costs, we shall be able to keep our product prices steady."
Incidentally, the innovative transfer sets can be recognized from the color lilac which is used by Pfrimmer-Nutricia to distinguish them more clearly. More and more of the approximately 75,000 transfer devices used daily in German hospitals and in home care contain the safe plasticizer. Hexamoll® DINCH is soon also to be used for artificial respiration systems.
Following the completion of various regulative authorization procedures, Hexamoll® DINCH is being widely launched onto the market as of this year. Smurfs, dolls heads and footballs from major toy manufacturers like Schleich, Zapf and John already contain BASF's new plasticizer. The production facility in Ludwigshafen is designed for an annual capacity of 25,000 metric tons. The total market volume for sensitive applications is estimated as 260,000 metric tons with an annual sales potential of more than e 300 million. At present, the worldwide sales are still concentrated in Europe and Asia. Import permits for Hexamoll® DINCH are already available for the USA, Canada and Japan as well as other countries. The continuing discussion about the potential risks associated with other plasticizers makes it likely that these markets will continue to grow.
Besides its applications in toys and medical devices, Hexamoll® DINCH is also particularly interesting for food contact uses. In Europe, the product is already being used for packaging and foodwrap film, and official approval from the American FDA for food products is imminent.
Phthalates, with an annual demand approaching one million metric tons in Europe alone, are the classics among the plasticizers. Chemically, they are obtained as a compound of phthalic anhydride with various alcohols. The properties of the resulting ester depend mainly on the choice of alcohol. The uses of phthalates include almost all products made from soft PVC such as floor coverings, films, cable insulations, truck tarpaulins or insulating and sealing compounds. Soft PVC, with its wide range of properties, is especially suitable for a large number of applications. It is resistant, for example, to harsh weather conditions and to sunlight. It is easy to process and insensitive to cold. Under the common trade name Palatinol®, BASF offers thirteen different phthalates for a variety of applications and requirements in its plasticizer portfolio.
Adipates are esters of adipic acid. They are suitable as plasticizers for PVC and other plastics, especially if these have to be soft and flexible at sub-zero temperatures. The adipate plasticizers of BASF are sold under the trade name Plastomoll®, and are also suitable for food contact applications. They are frequently used in conjunction with polymer plasticizers for food film packaging.
Polymeric plasticizers are esters of adipic acid with multivalent alcohols. This gives long chain molecules whose properties can be determined by the choice of alcohols used. BASF sells a number of polymer plasticizers under the trade name Palamoll®, that are often used for tubing and foils, also with food contact.