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Many Children's Halloween Products Have High Levels of Dangerous Chemicals, Study Says

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Everyone knows Halloween has inherent health hazard—Snickers and Butterfingers have never professed to be healthy, after all. But a new study says there are dangerously high levels of chemicalsand heavy metals in some of the fairy wings, candy bags and superhero costumes that millions of children will wear and touch on Oct. 31.HealthyStuff.org—an offshoot of the Michigan-based environmental non-profitEcology Center—tested 106 Halloween products sold by major retailers. Some were costumes, some accessories, some decorations and some party favors. And many tested positively for high levels of chemicals like lead, arsenic, flame retardants and chlorine.Ecology Center Environmental Health Campaign Director Rebecca Meuninck said of those 106 products tested, five had lead levels that were higher than the federal standard for children’s products (100 parts per million). Ten percent had high levels of bromine, a flame retardant. Thirty-nine percent had high levels of tin, suggesting the use of organotin stabilizers. These chemicals have been linked to serious health issues like hormone problems, learning disabilities and cancer.“[The levels of chemicals in tested products are] high enough that we want to definitely alert folks to the facts that they’re there,” Meuninck said.The products were purchased from major retailers like Kroger, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, CVS and Party City. Some had multiple problems, like a toddler’s Batman costume from Walmart: researchers found high levels of lead, chlorine, bromine and phthalates. A plastic “Cars”-themed trick-or-treat bag from Kroger had high levels of bromine, a flame retardant, with traces of chlorine and lead.“Flame retardants in products like trick-or-treat bags don’t make any sense to us,” Meuninck said. “We’re not sure why they would have such high levels. And they certainly shouldn’t be around food products that kids would obviously be putting in their trick-or-treat bags.”Some of the chemicals—like lead—could pose a problem if it’s ingested, which could happen if a small child swallows something like a jewel on a costume by accident. Flame retardants could come out in household dust, and children could be exposed by breathing it in or transferring it to their mouths by touching dust.Meuninck said the study uncovered a little bit of good news, too: a shift away from phthalate plasticizers in vinyl products, which have been linked to hormone problems. Fifteen of the vinyl items the Ecology Center tested used the less toxic DOTP instead of phthalates.Ultimately, the Ecology Center is using the study to underscore the need for federal chemical reform legislation. The U.S.’s Toxic Substances Control Act hasn’t been updated since 1976.“The fact that we have a broken federal chemical system is one of the reasons why we keep seeing these chemicals show up in product study after product study,” Meuninck said. “So if we reformed our federal chemicals policy—the Toxic Substances Control Act—that would go a long way to removing hazardous chemicals from the everyday products that we use.”See a full list of the products tested here.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.