Frequently Asked Questions

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What should I do if a product I own is listed HIGH?

First, if the product is a safety device like a car seat, we strongly advise you to continue using the product. Car seats save lives and should be used to transport children in vehicles.

In general vacuuming the product and area with a HEPA filter can help because chemicals end up getting attached to dust molecules and that is one route of exposure (ingestion/dermal contact with dust). There have been studies that indicate washing hands also limits exposure (because of hand to mouth contact).

 

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Are the chemicals listed here the only chemicals of concern in products?

No. The rapid screening technology used for HealthyStuff.org can identify the presence and concentration of some chemicals of concern. Consumer products may contain other hazardous materials that our analytical equipment cannot identify. HealthyStuff.org is a first step in providing information to consumers on some chemicals of concern in the everyday products we purchase.

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What should I do if I own a product with HIGH lead levels?

HealthyStuff.org recommends that you remove the product from your home and write the manufacturer, unless the item is a safety device like a car seat.

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Should my child or pet be tested for lead if we have one of these toys?

Parents should consult with their pediatrician or veterinarian to determine whether a lead test for their child or pet is warranted. The detection of lead in a product does not necessarily mean there has been exposure. It is important to remember that toys, childcare articles and pet products are just one source of lead exposure for kids and pets. Children and pets are exposed to lead from other sources as well. For tips on reducing lead exposure for children and pregnant women, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips.htm. or the American Academy of Pediatrics, Toy Safety Resource. For tips on reducing and managing lead exposure in pets, visit: American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

 

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What about lead paint?

Lead paint is still a concern -- the largest risk of lead exposure for children comes from lead paint and the resulting dust in older homes. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control website for tips on reducing lead exposure for children and pregnant women, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/tips.htm.

However, the risk from lead and other hazardous chemicals in consumer products is real. In particular, metal jewelry with high levels of lead or cadmium, if swallowed by a child, can be extremely hazardous. The contribution of products to the overall exposure of hazardous chemicals in children is not known, and will vary depending on the child's behavior and the products to which they are exposed. HealthyStuff.org believes these exposures are completely avoidable and therefore unnecessary, and product manufacturers should remove hazardous chemicals from consumer products.

 

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How can I choose safer products?

HealthyStuff.org offers tips to help consumers choose safer products. Please see our Consumer Resources page. It is also important to check products at home against government recall lists (see below). However, the only way to assure safer products for everyone is for the government to properly regulate chemicals in products. It cannot be the responsibility of consumers alone to determine which products are safe. Citizen pressure is essential to make the government and manufacturers bring safer products to market. Please refer to the Take Action link on this site for information on ways to add your voice to those calling for reform.

 

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How do I find out about product recalls?

For information on all product recalls, see the Consumer Product Safety Commission at: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/. If you suspect that a product is unsafe, or to report an unsafe product, contact the CPSC on the internet, or by phone 1-800-636-CPSC. To receive email recall alerts from Consumer Product Safety Commission, visit http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.

 

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Why focus on PVC?

From production to disposal, PVC is associated with the use and release of hazardous chemicals.

During the production phase, workers at PVC facilities, as well as residents in surrounding areas, may be exposed to vinyl chloride (the building block of PVC) and/or dioxin (an unwanted byproduct of PVC production), both of which are carcinogens. At the end of a product's life, PVC can create dioxin when burned. PVC is not easily recycled. Lead and other metals are sometimes used as a stabilizer or to impart other properties to PVC plastic.

Because PVC is an inherently brittle material, it requires additives to make it flexible, long-lasting, or to impart other properties. Between HealthyStuff's XRF and FTIR technology, we can detect many of these additives, which have the potential to negatively impact human health.

 

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Why focus on phthalates?

Phthalates, pronouced "thal-ates," are commonly found in PVC. These additives can harm reproductive development, especially in boys. They have also been linked to asthma. Since February 2009, childcare products (products for children under three years of age) and children’s toys (toys produced for children under twelve years of age) containing concentrations of DEHP, BBP, and DBP (three different types of phthalates) greater than 0.1% have been considered banned hazardous materials. Three additional phthalates, DINP, DnOP, and DIDP in concentrations greater than 0.1% have been placed on a provisional ban and are being re-evaluated for their safety (CPSIA 2008). HealthyStuff's FTIR technology can detect phthalates with a lower limit of detection around 1% by mass in PVC.

 

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Why focus on lead?

Lead can harm brain development, with effects including reduced IQ, shorter attention span, and delayed learning. There is no safe level of lead exposure. Since August 2009, products containing a concentration of lead—both in the paint and in the product itself—greater than 300 ppm have been listed as banned hazardous substances. This limit will belowered to 100 ppm as of August 2011. The CPSC has the right to decrease the amount of allowable lead as it sees fit and in accordance with technology at the time (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, CPSIA 2008). According to the CPSIA, electronic toys in the United States are exempt from the lead ban, though this is subject to change by the CPSC as technology improves (CPSIA 2008). Read more.

 

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Why focus on cadmium?

Cadmium is a known human carcinogen, and can harm the kidneys and lungs. It can have adverse effects on motor skills and behavior.

 

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What else can I do to protect my family?

Call the manufacturer and ask them to reformulate their products to eliminate chemicals of concern, disclose the ingredients in their products. The most important single action you can take is to demand large-scale change because this is the only way to truly solve the problem. Also, visit About Us to see if state level work is happening where you live.

 

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Are newer products safer than older ones?

In general, HealthyStuff.org has only tested products manufactured from 2006-present and cannot make definitive conclusions on older products. However, there is concern that older products may pose additional hazards. For instance, many older toys - those made before regulations enacted on home paint in 1978 - were coated with lead paint, and many plastic toys and other plastic items before 1990 contained lead- and cadmium-based pigments. HealthyStuff.org has also tested a limited number of 1990-2004 vehicles and, on average, they have slightly higher levels of chemicals than 2006-2010 model year vehicles. Still, our researchers found a surprising number of toys and other products purchased in 2008 and 2009 that contain lead as well as other chemicals and far too many cars, car seats, and pet products with elevated levels of hazardous chemicals.

 

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Are brand-name products better?

Chemicals of concern have been found in all types of products from all types of stores. Even name-brand and high-end products have been found to contain lead and other hazards.

 

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Are USA-made products safer?

HealthyStuff.org has not found a consistent correlation between the country of manufacture and the presence of toxic chemicals in products. A lot of our consumer products are produced outside of the U.S. For example, eighty percent of all toys purchased in the U.S. are made in China. Therefore, the majority of toys that we've previously tested were from China. HealthyStuff.org has not found a consistent correlation between the country of manufacture and the presence of toxic chemicals in toys. Twenty-one percent of toys from China and 16% of those from all other countries had detectable levels of lead in 2008. In 2008, 17 toys manufactured in the U.S. were sampled and 35% of those had detectable levels of lead. Seven toys (2%) had levels above 600 ppm. One of the highest lead levels detected (190,943 ppm) was on a Halloween Pumpkin Pin made in the USA. In addition, our tests of vehicles and car seats produced in the U.S. consistently show elevated levels of one or more hazardous chemicals. These levels of hazardous chemicals in US manufactured products are comparable to similar products produced in Asia or Europe.

 

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Can I test for lead myself?

Lead-testing kits are widely available, but consumers should be aware that they can provide both false positives and false negatives. Kits may provide a screening tool, but should not be used as an absolute determination of safety. Consumer Reports has rated home lead testing kits. For their recommendations, see: http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/2007/10/testing-the-lea.html. The CPSC also recently tested lead testing kits. For their recommendations, see: http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/119033/lead.pdf. More accurate results can be provided by a testing organization with an XRF analyzer or through a laboratory testing (which is expensive). Some local health departments have an XRF that can test toys.

 

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If phthalates/heavy metals/flame retardants/BPA were really poisonous, wouldn't we all be dead?

We think “dead” is too high a threshold to meet before removing hazardous chemicals from products. But we understand the point—that if you are healthy, and your kids are healthy, it’s easy to think there’s nothing to worry about. And we don’t want people to spend their lives fretting or obsessing. We are all part of this unwitting experiment. We want consumers to:

  1. Become aware that they are chronically exposed through consumer products to several classes of chemicals that do not lead to immediate, obvious health problems. These chemicals are suspected of--and in some cases implicated in--contributing to problems such as learning difficulties in childhood, fertility problems, and cancer.
  2. Understand that the combinative effects of the low-dose chemical cocktail we take in are just starting to be scientifically studied, and the actions of chemical combinations in the body can be different than the action of one isolated chemical.
  3. Have access to information through healthystuff.org about which products are likely safer to buy.
  4. Tell companies they want safer products and they want to know what materials and additives are used.
  5. Make purchases mindfully, consider the lifecycle of a product and how soon it may end up in a landfill, and look for longer-lasting products.

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Everything is toxic in high enough doses, even water. Why worry about trace amounts of chemicals?

Here’s how we turn the question around. Are you confident that the concentrations of flame retardant chemicals, plasticizers, heavy metals, and other substances measured in the bodies of babies, children, and adults are safe doses?  The old adage in toxicology is "the dose makes the poison.” Some substances, both natural and synthetic, are dangerous in extremely small doses, some only in higher doses. Some build up and are stored in body tissues; others are rapidly eliminated.

It’s reasonable to ask, "How much of chemical X are we being exposed to, and how much does this increase our risk of negative health effects?" The fact that these questions are hard to answer is not a reason to give industry a pass to expose untold numbers of people to chemical X. Whose responsibility should it be to make sure the doses we receive through daily living have no negative effects? Often, no one has this responsibility. In the United States, chemicals used in consumer products are essentially innocent until proven guilty. We feel this is backwards, and the burden of proving a chemical’s safety should be on manufacturers.

Humans are exposed to hundreds of industrial chemicals at doses that cause no apparent immediate effect. Yet many have been found to disrupt one or more of the body’s systems, causing gradual changes that can lead to disease. Minimal exposure to any one of these chemicals might not appreciably increase your risk of cancer or liver damage or cognitive deficits or other problems, but repeated exposure to many different chemicals may lead to a significant risk. Indeed, recent research in environmental health tackles this complex question and finds an unfortunate synergistic effect of low-dose exposures.

Infants and children are particularly vulnerable because 1) their brains and body systems are growing and changing, 2) they breathe and metabolize at faster rates, 3) they play close to the floor where there is more dust, 4) they mouth objects and put their hands in their mouths frequently.

A few chemical hazards are fairly well characterized: For example, lead exposure in childhood has a permanent effect on IQ, reasoning ability, and impulse control. No safe level of lead in a child's blood has been established. The "acceptable" level has been lowered from 10 ug/dL to 5 ug/dL in recent years based on newer research. Yet lead was removed from gasoline and paint in the United States only after millions of children had been poisoned, after many decades had gone by and countless homes and tons of soil were contaminated, ensuring that children continue to be damaged by lead long after those uses were banned.

The history of lead is an example of why chemicals should be demonstrated safe before being released to the market—even when “only” trace amounts enter our bodies.

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If manufacturers have to demonstrate safety, won’t that cost time and money?

Yes. We believe allowing humans to grow up and live uncompromised by chemical exposure is more important.

Consider, too, the far-reaching costs of low-dose hazardous chemical exposure in a population. (For example, additional assistance for children with learning disabilities, government benefits paid to people with chronic health problems, lost productivity, costs of cancer treatment.) A recent analysis looked at these kinds of costs for endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

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As long as my baby doesn’t eat his car seat (or toy, or floor, etc.), there's no problem. Right?

This is a response we get to our studies on a fairly regular basis. We wish the “Just don’t eat it” quip were true. Problem is, flame retardants and phthalates and other chemicals added to products don’t stay put. They are mixed with the polymer that makes up the product but not strongly bound to it. So they migrate out, stick to dust, enter the air and then your body via breathing or eating.

Lead in older vinyl mini-blinds and in old paint, for example, has caused severe lead poisoning in babies too young to have ever put blinds or paint in their mouths. How? It’s in the air the babies breathe. The plastic of the blinds and the chipping paint release tiny particles containing lead into the air. A similar process releases flame retardant chemicals from televisions, computer housings, and upholstered furniture.

There are other routes of exposure in addition to breathing. For example, the vinyl covering on your phone charger cable looks like a stable piece of plastic, but plasticizer molecules get on your fingers every time to touch it. The plasticizer dissolves in fatty liquids, so it enters the oils on your skin. You may ingest a little when eating. Some chemicals can also be absorbed through your skin.

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Don't flame retardant (FR) chemicals protect us from fires? Isn't that a good thing?

Chemicals used as flame retardants are added to petroleum-based materials that are highly flammable, such as furniture foam, polyester fabrics, and some solid plastics. The added chemicals slightly slow the spread of fire through a material. Although the intent is to prevent injury and death from fires, this benefit has not been demonstrated. Extensive research has not shown a meaningful fire safety benefit from FR chemicals [pdf] in cars, furniture, and other household goods. Many people are therefore questioning whether contaminating life across the entire globe with extremely persistent and hazardous chemicals is worth the questionable benefit of using these chemicals.

Not long ago, companies manufacturing FR chemicals formed a now-defunct group (Citizens for Fire Safety) and hired the same PR firm that tobacco companies used a few decades ago to cover up research results and convince the public that cigarette smoking was safe. This PR firm used the same strategies they had employed to confuse and mislead about cigarettes. They cited fake research about flame retardants and paid at least one doctor to repeatedly give fake testimony to fight proposed regulations. Check out the Chicago Tribune 2012 series “Playing with Fire” for the full history. Here is another recent revelation about the American Chemistry Council's shady tactics. 

Consumer confidence in the effectiveness and safety of FR chemicals can at least partly be traced back to this group’s propaganda.

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What should car seat companies do instead of adding FR chemicals?

Our 2015 car seat report outlines a number of proposed design changes to cars that can both improve our chances in a fire and eliminate added FR chemicals. (See p. 17 in the Technical Report, http://www.ecocenter.org/healthy-stuff/hidden-hazards.)  One major goal of our car seat studies is to push manufacturers and regulators to consider these changes.

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I read there’s no evidence [insert chemical of concern] is actually harming anyone. How do you respond to that?

“No evidence” in this context often means one of two things: 1) There is no evidence because so little research has been done or 2) Research has been done, showing reason for strong concern, but not enough to prove causality because proof is such an exceedingly high standard. The “no evidence” claim is often used in these weaselly ways: It makes people think the chemicals have been well-studied and found to be safe, when the near-opposite may be true.

It is extremely time-consuming and costly to demonstrate a causal link between a specific chemical and a specific health outcome that may occur years down the road. This difficulty is abundantly exploited by those with a vested interest in claiming said chemicals are safe.

In our regulatory system, chemicals are innocent until proven guilty. We feel this is backwards, and the burden of proving a chemical’s innocence, so to speak, should be on manufacturers.

Published on October 4, 2016

IMPORTANT NOTE: HealthyStuff.org ratings do not provide a measure of health risk or chemical exposure associated with any individual product, or any individual element or related chemical.

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