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Bath News: What? The Duck?

BATH, United Kingdom

The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) says get the duck away! The plastic duck in your bath may kill you, or give you a nasty rash.

An EAWAG study has revealed the “dark side” of our friendly flexible plastic bath toys. And it’s your fault! It turns out that microbial growth on the foam-floaters is caused by bath users themselves contaminating our man-made-material buddies.

Warm, humid bathrooms provide ideal conditions for the formation of bacterial and fungal biofilms – for example, on shower curtains or behind cabinets. This applies in particular to “rubber” ducks and other bath toys.

Don’t Squirt Your Duck

Dense growths of bacteria and fungi are found on the inner surface of these flexible toys, and a murky liquid will often be released when they are squeezed by a child.

A group of Swiss and American researchers have now studied the factors that favor microbial growth and the types of microorganisms present in bath toys.

In the study, they characterized biofilm communities inside used bath toys. They also carried out controlled experiments with new bath toys, under conditions simulating household use: over a period of 11 weeks, some of the toys were exposed to clean and others to dirty bath water (including constituents such as soap, human body fluids and bacteria).

Subject Is Widely Discussed In Online Forums

First author of the study is the microbiologist Lisa Neu. In her doctoral research, she is investigating –more generally – biofilm formation and how plastic materials influence microbial processes in potable water.

Her supervisor, Frederik Hammes, is not surprised by the findings: “Mouldy bath toys are widely discussed in online forums and blogs, but they have received little scientific attention to date.” In fact, he adds, they are extremely interesting for researchers, as they represent “the junction between potable water, plastic materials, external contamination and vulnerable end-users”. The vulnerable users in question are children who may enjoy squirting water from bath toys into their faces.

Hammes comments: “This could strengthen the immune system, which would be positive, but it can also result in eye, ear, or even gastrointestinal infections.”

Close The Hole Immediately?

So should rubber ducks be banned from the bathtub? Or carefully cleaned after use? Or – as often recommended online – should the hole be closed immediately, so as to prevent squirting? Hammes points out another option – tighter regulations on polymeric materials used to produce bath toys. This has already proved effective for problematic chemicals; now, the release of carbon should also be taken into consideration, as is already the case in the testing of plastic pipes for drinking water.

In Other Duck News

A giant yellow inflatable duck named Daphne that made a break from its moorings in Australia was located March 19 after a week on the lam. Daphne - the oversized mascot of the Cockburn Masters Swimming Club in Perth, Australia - made a bid for freedom on Mar 11, drifting out into the Indian Ocean and sparking an appeal for help along the country’s west coast, ChannelNews Asia Reports.

“Reports of sightings flooded in, including one from 440km away.

But on Monday, a local fisherman revealed that he had spotted the escaping bath toy on the day of its disappearance - just 30km off shore”.  It is understood that arrangements are being made for Daphne’s return home.

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