Study finds hazardous chemicals in children's soccer boots on sale in Hong Kong

Greenpeace study blows whistle on children's soccer boots endorsed by World Cup stars over use of substances harmful to reproduction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 May, 2014, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 4:40pm

Hong Kong children are being sold soccer boots containing hazardous chemicals that are endorsed by stars of next month's World Cup, a global environmental groups says.

Greenpeace claims that Nike HyperVenom boots - adult versions of which are worn by English ace Wayne Rooney and Brazilian hero Neymar - contain phthalates, substances mainly used to increase flexibility, and dimethylformamide (DMF), a liquid used as a solvent. The chemicals were also found in boots from Puma and Adidas elsewhere in the world.

Both substances are known to harm the development of the reproductive system. Greenpeace says hazardous substances can leach out of boots and enter the food chain. It urged manufacturers to stop using such substances and called on governments to tighten safety rules. Manufacturers say their products are safe to wear and that the use of chemicals is within legal limits.

"These chemicals have adverse effects on sperm production in men and development of the reproductive system in children," Kate Lin Pui-yin, a Greenpeace Hong Kong campaigner, said yesterday.

Some 33 soccer-related products found in 16 markets in Latin America, Europe and Asia, including Hong Kong, were tested by the University of Exeter in the UK and at Greenpeace facilities in Germany. They included boots, shirts gloves and balls.

The testing was part of Greenpeace's Detox campaign, launched in 2011 to check for harmful chemicals in textile and leather products.

All of the products tested were by Nike, Puma or Adidas, an official partner of Fifa, world soccer's governing body and organiser of next month's event in Brazil. Most of the products were made in mainland China or Indonesia.

Nike said it was "committed to the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020" and had "made meaningful progress toward our goal". It said the chemicals were "within the limits set by government agencies and below the levels set in Nike's own restricted substances list".

Adidas also disputed the claim. "None of the tested products pose any health risk to consumers," Katja Schreiber, its director of corporate communications, said. "We clearly reject Greenpeace's attempt in making our consumers believe that our products are unsafe."

Lin said that, instead of setting safety thresholds, the use of toxic materials should be abandoned by manufacturers and ruled out by government regulations.

Nike markets the boots as offering "barefoot-like touch that delivers cutthroat control". Adult versions sell for up to US$275 on Nike's website.