Safer alternatives already on the market
More than seven out of 10, or 71 percent, of university-themed products sold at top retailers contain one or more hazardous chemicals including arsenic, lead, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium.
Reseachers at HealthyStuff.org, a project of the the Ecology Center, tested 65 university-themed products acquired in the last two months for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.
Products tested included wallets, key chains, seat cushions, and sports jerseys purchased at major retailers including Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. The products carried logos of 19 national universities including the University of Michigan, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Connecticut, Duke University and Michigan State University.
"In college towns across America, March Madness brings with it a tremendous amount of excitement," according to Rebecca Meuninck, environmental health campaign director for the Ecology Center and HealthyStuff.org.
"Many of the universities represented in our study pride themselves on their efforts to 'green' their campuses, but there's a disconnect when university-themed products contain harmful chemicals linked to diseases like certain cancers, thyroid disruption, infertility and learning disabilities."
HealthyStuff.org tested the products for chemicals based on their toxicity or their tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include arsenic, bromine, chlorine, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, antimony and tin. Researchers used high-definition x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, a non-destructive method that allows for the rapid screening of toxic chemicals in consumer products. Screening for phthalates was conducted on flexible PVC products using a different type of spectroscopy. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission requires that children's products contain no more than 100 parts per million of total lead content. The CPSC has also permanently banned three types of phthalates in children's toys and on interim basis has banned three other phthalates in childcare articles.
Several of the products tested contained banned phthalates and high levels of lead. For example, a University of North Carolina lunch bag (purchased at Walmart) contained phthalates banned by the CPSC and levels of lead that exceed CPSC regulation.
Similarly, a Michigan State University seat cushion (purchased at Kroger) and a University of Central Florida car mat (purchased at Walmart) both contained banned phthalates and lead exceeding CPSC regulation.
The study also found 20 products that were rated of low concern, "illustrating the range of approaches and materials choices manufactures have taken to produce healthier products," Meuninck said. Examples include PVC-free Michigan State-themed rain gear and a University of Wisconsin PVC-free and phthalate-free grill cover, indicating that safer products are already available on the market.
"Showing your team colors during March Madness shouldn't be bad for your health, yet researchers have found that dangerous chemicals like arsenic, lead, phthalates, and toxic flame retardants are common in the products they tested," according to Mike Schade, director of the Mind the Store campaign at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. "Consumers don't want to worry that a NCAA-themed product could carry toxic chemicals into their home. They're counting on major retailers to leverage their position in the market to encourage the sale of safe products."
"We recommend common-sense precautions when handling these products because they may contain hazardous substances," Meuninck said. "For example, do not allow children to put these items in their mouths and wash your hands after handling these products."
Highlights of findings from HealthyStuff.org's university-themed product study:
Two products tested had high levels of arsenic:
Full study results and detailed information about what consumers can do is available at HealthyStuff.org.
EcoLink — March 2014
An online publication of the Ecology Center
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