A Tisket, A Tasket, Watch Out for that Toxic Picnic Basket!

The cooler is stocked, the picnic basket is packed and many families are enjoying summer getaways—even if just to the backyard. But, what just snuck into our picnic plans? Common indoor pollutants that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer are finding their way into our outdoor adventures through our favorite products.

The Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org project teamed up with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families to identify summer products containing toxic chemicals. Our new release from the Mind the Store campaign addresses Toxic Things that don’t belong at a backyard BBQ.

We tested 58 common outdoor picnic products from eight of the top ten national retailers. We tested tablecloths, placemats, picnic baskets, coolers, water toys, folding chairs and umbrellas. Almost all of the products (96%) contained detectable levels of at least one chemical of concern and about half contained elevated levels. Outrageous!

Here’s what we found:

  • Phthalates at high levels in vinyl table coverings, placemats, fabric chairs, water hoses, and water toys
  • Lead in high amounts in fabric tablecloths with weighted corners
  • Brominated flame retardants, organotins, and antimony in folding chairs

You can see all of our results at HealthyStuff.org

Phthalates, the chemicals that showed up repeatedly in the tests, are hormone disruptors.  DEHP, the phthalate commonly used in vinyl outdoor products is a probable human carcinogen according the U.S. EPA and is classified as causing genetic mutations by the European Union.  Phthalates have already been banned in children’s products in the U.S.  When these products are stored in the home, children, pets, and other vulnerable populations can be exposed to phthalate-laden dust and air.  When in use, phthalates can leach into our food and increase overall releases into the environment.

So avoid the vinyl tablecloth and go for the fabric one right? Not necessarily! We were disappointed to find large amounts of lead in the weights of some of the fabric table cloths. Some contained as much as ¼ pound of lead distributed in the fours corners. Lead is a potent neurotoxic chemical and there is no safe level of lead exposure. When disposed of, such tablecloths can then release lead into our environment.

We suggest you avoid vinyl whenever you can. Look for non-vinyl reusable table coverings, such as those made out of cotton, nylon, polyester, linen, or canvas. And hold the tablecloth down with reusable clips instead of purchasing weighted tablecloths.

So what’s a picnicker to do?

Check out Greener Choices for Your Next Picnic which identifies toxic things that don’t belong at a backyard BBQ. And then, join us in sending a message to Target asking them to make a plan to remove these toxic chemicals from the products on their shelves.

There are safer alternatives available. Let’s ask Target to stock their shelves with less toxic products so our next picnic is happier and healthier.

Published on August 8, 2013