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HeroCard: Rise of the Shogun» Forums » General

Subject: Speculating on the cause of the malodour and cures rss

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In the comments to this geeklist This game stinks!!! Literally..., I started a reply to a post about toxic plastics. Although this game series hasn't been manufactured for some years and is possibly out of print (TableStar games reported that sales weren't good and, a couple of years ago, that existing copies were probably going to be destroyed to save storage costs) copies are still available from a few online stores like Paizo as well as new copies from auction site so this is still of something other than historical relevance. As my reply was long and more related to HeroCard and less to the the PVC discussion so I've promoted it to its own thread.

There's a lot of speculation on my part which I'm sure the publisher could confirm or repudiate but I don't want to ask since I don't want to directly raise what I suspect is not the happiest of memories. If he happens to be subscribed to the game forum that's rather a different matter.

This post Re: Smelly and sticky? suggests soaking for 10 minutes in denatured alcohol aka methylated spirits. If my speculation is correct then many odour neutralising sprays will work to some degree as they target sulphur containing compounds.

BrackAttack wrote:
Ethylene dichloride from PVC is a possible carcinogen,

Ethyelene dichloride is a known carcinogen and it does outgas from PVC so whoever reported A and B together as a "possible carcinogen" is applying typical scientific caution until a study is funded that does link the two facts conclusively and is probably avoiding an ensuing law suit from plastics manufacturers.

BrackAttack wrote:
Basically that bad plastic smell is a short-cut to cancer or hormone disruption. Don't mess with it.

I'm quoting partially and doing so out of order here but the implication is that the plastic smell in boardgames is plasticisers in the form of phthalates and is dangerous.

That's interesting but I don't think it's entirely accurate or pertinent to boardgames. One of the paragraphs is about outgassing of PVC itself and the other is about dangers coming from ingestion or inhalation of plasticisers often found in PVC which are two quite different concepts.

PVC is used far less in boardgames and their stiff components than is styrene. Both can be moulded into highly detailed, coloured game components but as styrene is much cheaper it is used preferentially. Also, plastic boardgame components are commonly not intended to be flexible so if they were PVC they'd use little in the way plasticisers.

Phthalates are plasticisers, they make rigid PVC flexible by interposing themselves between PVC molecules during forming. When the plastic cools they prevent the PVC molecules crosslinking which then lets them slide past one another. That they don't bond with the polymer is what allows the plasticisers to so easily escape for ingestion or inhalation.

A lot of soft, rubbery toys for infants and adults do contain PVC with a lot of plasticisers which has led to companies promoting themselves as using phthalate free silicone for a similar softness. Adults may possess stiff PVC toys and these, I learn from TV, are often found in the bedroom. These expensive super hero/fantasy/science fiction vinyl statues with which geeks adorn their sleeping chambers are also found along side similar resin figures. If you know of anything else stiff called an adult toy which is found in the bedroom, well, good for you. Some objet d'art may be made of made of transparent acrylic or glass to allow colourful interiors but PVC is also common in other somewhat less rigid, more automotive such objects.

I wouldn't be surprised if the bad plastic smell that HamsterOfFury reports in the HeroCard games (Item for Geeklist "This game stinks!!! Literally..." ) is carcinogenic but it's not the characteristic smell of PVC toys. While I find PVC's odour neutral to unpleasant all of the HeroCard games including Shogun and Cyberspace (which must use different compositions for the figures as they are much more supple) are offensive. The odour transfers by contact as does the stickiness.

Cost wise, it doesn't seem likely that rigid figurines in boardgames would be made out of PVC. I imagine the trap components in Mouse Trap are made out of something like medium or high density polyethylene (MDPE or HDPE) since it's cheap and impact resistant (MDPE deforms rather than fractures). A lot of toys are made out of HDPE and it's typically a lot less stiff than PS. The typical HeroCard figures do flex more than my known PS figures and they do so more elastically without the characteristic whitening and plastic deformation of bent PS. Hard parts of action figures are commonly made from ABS but ABS is really expensive compared to the others so far mentioned. Nylon is also used in toys but even the cheap varieties are as expensive as ABS.

Of course, some phthalates do have a disagreeable odour and can be transferred from plastics. The amount of stench, the amount of transfer and the lack of softness of the HeroCard figures in particular and other figures in general makes it unlikely these are PVC with plasticisers. I've owned the games for more than six years and they were manufactured more than eight years ago and they still exude a malodour. The only thing I've read that makes sense is that it's a sulphur based curing accelerator and that these can produce mercaptans for years. In the popular pastime of denigrating Chinese manufacturing processes

Come to think of it just as writing that above sentence, I was mixing some epoxy a couple of weeks ago and part of the unpleasant undertones of that odour was vaguely reminiscent of the HeroCard stench. Thiols (aka mercaptans) are sulphur based curing agents often used in rapid hardening epoxies, ie, the sort of adhesive I was using. Incidentally, thiols are found in skunk spray if that gives you an idea of how bad the HeroCard figures stink. Zinc carbonate apparently reduces the odour but that's added during manufacture of rubbers so I don't know if topical application to figurines will be useful.

I don't know what plastic the HeroCard figures. If anyone was willing to sacrifice part of a piece, hold a gas fuelled cigarette lighter flame to it.

Very swiftly PS will catch fire and burn with a very sooty yellow flame even after the ignition source is removed.
PVC will more slowly burn yellow with a little green while the flame is applied. When removed PVC will blacken and melt but won't continue to burn.
PE will ignite and burn invisibly or with a blue flame after the ignition source is removed.

Slightly less destructive is trying to dissolve them in turpentine. Vinyl has good resistance to it but styrene will soften and dissolve.
Acetone will affect both but the styrene more quickly. (The effect of acetone on expol is like the Alien xenomorph's blood on metal. It's really fun but then you have to dispose of wasted organic solvent which is not environmentally friendly.)
Polyethylene will be quite unaffected by both.

Non-destructively you could look at densities.
Solid PS (typically) and PVC will both sink in water under standard conditions but PE will readily float.

Using a hydrometer or a known volume of water and mass of solute such as salt or sugar, PS will float in water denser than 1.04 g/cm^3. PVC will sink in anything less than 1.4 g/cm^3. You could test this out on your next trip to the Dead Sea since it's right in between those two values. Or you could be boring and add a few hundred grams of salt to 1 L of water. It takes a long time to mix that in even with a heated stirrer. (Equal volumes of invert syrup and water will also have a specific gravity around 1.2 but that also takes a lot of time and effort to homogenize.)

Or you could apply Archimedes' Principle if you have sufficiently accurate devices.

My figures aren't to hand at the moment so I can't test them.
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