Report: Thousands of kids' products contain toxic chemicals

Clothing, car seats and toys are sold in stores and consumers know little about their content.

STATESMAN WASHINGTON BUREAUMay 1, 2013 

WASHINGTON - More than 5,000 products contain chemicals that could be dangerous for children's health, an advocacy group reported this week.

"For most products in our homes, including children's products, we simply don't have standards," said Erika Schreder, science director for the Washington Toxics Coalition and author of the report released Wednesday based on toxic chemical data from Washington state. "Manufacturers are allowed to use just about anything they want to."

The report, called "Chemicals Revealed," identified the products, such as footwear, bedding, and arts and crafts supplies that include developmental or reproductive toxins and carcinogens. Those include such toxic metals as mercury, cadmium, cobalt, antimony and molybdenum.

Manufacturers also reported using phthalates in clothing, toys, bedding and baby products. Phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals, most are often used to make plastics pliable.

66 CHEMICALS

The Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups, looked at products sold in Washington. In 2008 the state began requiring retailers to report whether they're selling products that contain one of 66 chemicals the state identified as being of high concern to children.

The legislation required major companies making children's products to report to the Washington State Department of Ecology beginning last year. The report covers certain children's products sold in the state from June 1, 2012, to March 1, 2013.

Major retailers who reported using the chemicals in their products include Walmart, Gap, Gymboree, Hallmark and H&M.

Retailers aren't required to report the exact product, however, just product categories. The report identified Hallmark party hats containing cancer-causing arsenic, for example, but because of the limited data that manufacturers and retailers are required to disclose, it's impossible to specify the exact party hat.

LIMITED DATA

Among the other products identified in the report: Graco car seats containing the toxic flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A, Claire's cosmetics containing cancer-causing formaldehyde, and Wal-Mart dolls containing hormone-disrupting bisphenol A.

The groups praised manufacturers and retailers for providing even limited data, saying that the information is critical for understanding the presence of toxic chemicals. Yet to truly protect children, Schreder said, manufacturers need to identify safer ways to make their products and stop using harmful chemicals.

The organization also backs efforts to ban two fire retardants in Washington state.

BROKEN SYSTEM

To find out more, consumers must press the individual retailers and manufacturers for more information, said Sarah Doll of Safer States, which is part of a network of environmental health groups nationwide.

"The biggest thing that this does is to demonstrate a system that's broken, and to ask for better protection," Doll said. "You can actually go to the retailer and say, 'I want you to ask your suppliers if these products contain those chemicals.' "

Only Maine has a similar program, but other states may follow Washington's lead in the absence of federal rules. A federal Government Accountability Office report issued in March found that the Environmental Protection Agency is limited under the Toxic Substances Control Act authority.

Of the 83 chemicals EPA has prioritized for risk assessment, the agency initiated seven assessments in 2012 and plans to start 18 additional assessments this year and next, the GAO report found.

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