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Sep 182009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Lead in toys is scary enough, but that’s only the start. Now, you might need to take a second look at your handbag, your car, your pet’s bed and even your clothes. The non-profit group Healthy Stuff reports that their recent testsdog with toy HeathyStuff_org of 900 everyday consumer products turned up some toxic results.

Let’s start with man’s best friend or your purring pal.

More than 400 pet products, such as beds, chew toys, stuffed toys, collars, leashes and even tennis balls were tested. The results are unsettling. Healthy Stuff says that 45 percent of all the pet products they examined had at least one and frequently more toxins. A good one-quarter of the items had detectable levels of lead and of those, 7 percent exceeded the current limit the government has said are acceptable in children’s toys.

About half of the pet collars tested had detectable lead, and more than 25 percent of those exceeded the 330 ppm (parts per million) level that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has said is dangerous for children.

And if throwing the ball is fun for Fido, you might want to reconsider. Almost half of the tennis balls made for pets contained lead (interestingly, no lead turned up in tennis balls for the court).

That’s just the tip of the chemical iceberg.

If you’re driving a 2004 or older car, there is a greater chance of heavy metals (such as lead) in it. Also, the groups said, the level of chemicals in cars can be five to 10 times higher than your home or office.

kid in stroller Healthystuff_orgThe group tested 700 new and used vehicles, from some ‘80s models to 2010s. The two with the least chemicals – the 2009 Pontiac G5 and the Chevy Cobalt. The worst offenders — at the bottom of the chemical-heavy car list — were Mitsubishis, Audis and VWs.

Just what is, anyway? They say their ratings are based on information from environmental health groups and researchers. The website was created by the Ecology Center, a non-profit environmental group in Michigan born after the first Earth Day in 1970. Its goal, according to its website, is to advocate for safe environments in all walks of life.

Healthy Stuff calls out the government and EPA for what they say are lax, outdated and incomplete research of potentially harmful toxins.  In 2005, the nation’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report criticizing the government agencies for  failing to expand regulation and testing of potentially harmful chemicals in consumer products.

With this latest round of tests, the Healthy Stuff group says it has conducted more than 15,000 tests on more than 5,000 everyday items.

Their most recent research also scrutinized the chemicals found in children’s car seats. Almost 60 percent of car seats had potentially harmful additives, they say, such as PVC, chemical flame retardants and heavy metals.

A substantial list of various kid car seats lets you find the variety you’re using, and a click on the “model” link reveals an overall score, the testihandbag HealthyStuff_orgng method, manufacturer code and which parts of the seat contain chemicals.

The group repeatedly reminds visitors that their results are not meant to imply that a specific chemical found in a product necessarily means it is dangerous. Their testing is meant to inform the public of the presence of certain chemicals in an item, not to tell consumers what they should and shouldn’t buy.

They test using a portable X-ray fluorescence analyzer, or XRF, to search for lead, cadmium, mercury, bromine, chlorine (PVC) and arsenic.

XRFs are used by manufacturers and government regulators to screen products for potentially harmful chemicals, Healthy Stuff says on their Web site. They also state that their testing has limitations: product choices were based in part on consumer interest. They did not randomly sample the items they tested, and want people to know that the items they test are not representative of all products in the market.

Now that the kids are safely back to school, you might want to peruse Healthy Stuff’s screening of more than 60 school supplies. A look at backpacks, pencil cases, binders and even lunchboxes had plenty of PVC and more than 20 percent had lead.

Of all the kids’ school products, almost 90 percent had one of more of the chemicals on Healthy Stuff’s concern list.

Before you rush out to buy replacements, you’d best check out their new research on women’s purses. Healthy Stuff tested more than 100 handbags, and found detectable kid in toy store HealthyStuff_orglead in more than 75 percent of them. Of those, they said, 64 percent had more lead than the level the government has deemed safe.

The current law that governs chemical content is decades old. The Healthy Stuff site says that impending legislation demanding closer scrutiny of consumer goods chemical makeup is in the works.

Look over these lists for more detailed information:  toys, cars and trucks, clothing and accessories, products for children or pet products.

More questions? Check their list of frequently asked ones.

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