Toxic Chemicals Taint Many Halloween Costumes, Products

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Getting ready for a night of trick or treating with the kids or grandkids? Better check that store-bought costume or bag, because it may be packed with toxic chemicals, according to a study out today by the nonprofit Ecology Center's project. tested 105 Halloween items -- 44 costumes, 40 accessories and 21 decorations and party favors -- for chemicals linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The chemicals included lead, bromine from flame retardants, chlorine from vinyl or PVC plastic, phthalates, arsenic, tin, lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury. The products were purchased from such retailers as CVS (CVS), Kroger (KR), Target (TGT), Walmart (WMT), Walgreens (WAG) and Party City.

"We don't want to frighten consumers, but we do think there's a public health concern," Rebecca Meuninck, environmental health campaign director, told DailyFinance. "These [substances] don't need to be in these products. There are safer alternatives. And there were products that didn't have any hazards." The results:
  • Almost one-third contained antimony.
  • 33 contained vinyl.
  • Ten, mostly decorations and party accessories, contained bromine.
  • Five had high levels of lead, and seven had lower lead levels.
  • Two contained high levels of phthalates that were recently banned in children's products.

Risks for Children, Adults

Some substances -- like the heavy metals lead, chromium, and cadmium -- act as neurotoxins and are unsafe at any dosage. Others -- like some flame retardants that Meuninck said have been linked to certain cancers and neurotoxicity -- fall off products as dust and build up in people's systems over time. They appear in many household products -- such as as carpeting and televisions -- and can take longer to exhibit effects.

Meuninck says that having potentially harmful chemicals in bags that hold candy or items that children can play with is an unwarranted risk.

DailyFinance contacted all the companies mentioned in the report. Of those, Walmart, Party City and CVS responded before publication. Target and Walgreens acknowledged the request for comment, but were unable to send statements in time. Kroger and Disney (DIS) did not respond at all.

What the Retailers Said

Here is Walmart's response:

At Walmart we take the issue of product safety very seriously. Standard testing procedures are in place for our products to assure compliance with all regulatory requirements and give customers trust in the quality, and safety of items on our shelves. We are reviewing this matter further with our suppliers and will perform additional testing if necessary to help ensure items meet applicable requirements.

Party City's statement included the following:

Party City is dedicated to ensuring that all of its supplier's products meet or exceed federal, state and municipal requirements.

butterfly wings costume

To this end, Party City requires testing and compliance of its suppliers' products by using nationally recognized product testing organizations. Any product that fails to meet governmental or Party City's standards will not be distributed.

Regarding alleged levels of either brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, antimony compounds, or organotin compounds, Party City requires all of its suppliers to meet applicable standards for bromated and other flame retardants. For the two items allegedly with high levels of certain chemicals, we shall inform the suppliers, investigate the allegations and take necessary actions.

This is Target's statement:

Target is committed to providing high quality and safe products to our guests. The product in question meets all federal product safety requirements. Any additional questions should be directed to the manufacturer identified on the product.

And here is the CVS response:

We are committed to ensuring that the products we sell are safe and of high-quality. We will be reviewing [the] findings.

According to Meuninck, there are two major problems:
  • Federal standards are old and typically splintered among different agencies. "[The products] likely are up to the current standards," she said. "Our arguments are those standards do not protect health." Furthermore, some regulatory language is very narrow. Under the applicable standard a toy is "essentially a product made for the care, feeding, or soothing of a child under the age of 3," she said. "However, we know exposure to toxic chemicals happens well past 3. Costumes and decorations may not count as toys even though kids will play with them like any other toy."
  • For overseas factories, manufacturers "don't necessarily know enough about their supply chain for really complex products that have different fabrics and foams that aren't necessarily manufactured in one shop," Meuninck said.
Consumers have safer options, according to the Ecology Center. They include using an old pillow case for a candy sack, making costumes out of cloth or paper bags and boxes, using face paints or making masks out of papier-mâché.

Updated (12:05 p.m.): Walgreen sent the following statement:

We have stringent requirements and proactively work with our vendors to ensure the quality, safety and regulatory compliance of the products we offer for sale. We don't know what methodology used to test these products, so we can't comment on their accuracy. We have verified that our own testing or our vendors' testing for Walgreens owned-brand products listed by showed full compliance with safety requirements.

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