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For Consumer Questions:

734-663-2400 x 105

For Press Questions:

Glenn Turner, 917-817-3396
Shayna Samuels, 718-541-4785


Advisories and Releases

 

* Hi-Res Photos and Detailed Test Data Analysis Available Upon Request *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Noon, Wednesday, December 8, 2010
CONTACT: Jeff Gearhart, 734-761-3186 Ext 117

New Research Finds 4 out of 5 Sets of Christmas and Holiday String Lights Contain Lead

HealthyStuff.org Urges CPSC and Manufacturers
to Phase Out Lead Use Immediately in Lights

Urge Congress to Pass Toxic Chemical Safety Act (HR 5820) to Protect Consumers

 

(Ann Arbor, MI -- December 8, 2010) – The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, today released the new test results on Christmas and Holiday lights at www.HealthyStuff.org.  Researchers tested 68 common varieties of holiday lights for lead, cadmium, arsenic, PVC, and other harmful chemicals in time to help consumers make better choices for their families this holiday shopping season. 

According to researchers at HealthyStuff.org, who have tested more than 7,000 consumer products over the past four years, a significant percentage of holiday lights contain lead and other chemical hazards. The tests showed that 4 out of 5 light sets contained detectable lead and that 28% contained lead at levels which make the product illegal to sell in Europe (greater than 1,000 parts per million).

"Some manufacturers manage to make lights without lead.  So why are we allowing any lead in these products? We have known for decades that lead can poison brains, but manufacturers are still using this compound," said ___. "The last thing families want to be worrying about during the holidays is whether they are exposing their children to toxic chemicals by decorating their tree.  Both manufacturers and the government should be doing a better job of policing chemicals in products."  

The results can be found on the user-friendly website: www.HealthyStuff.org.  Visitors can look up products by manufacturer, brand, or product type and easily generate lists of highly rated and poorly rated products.

HealthyStuff.org tested for chemicals based on their toxicity, persistence and tendency to build up in people and the environment.  Such chemicals have been linked to reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer.

"You cannot sell products with these levels of lead in Europe, but companies continue to dump these types of hazardous products on US consumers," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s Research Director.  "It's time we had commonsense laws to protect us from toxic chemicals the way virtually ever other industrialized country does. We need a major and comprehensive overhaul of our chemicals policies immediately to start phasing out these dangerous substances."


Highlights from the HealthyStuff.org 2010 holiday light findings, include:

  • Lead Is Everywhere in Holiday Lights — Lead was detected in 79% (54 out of 68) light sets tested by HealthyStuff.org.  HealthyStuff.org tested both the cable insulation and the bulb base on each light set.  31% of the wiring insulation and 70% of the bulb bases tested contained lead. 

 

  • Lead Level Higher in US Products —  28% (19) of light sets tested at levels over 1,000 parts per million (ppm) lead, a level that would make these product illegal to sell in Europe.  European regulations (the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive or RoHS) restrict lead in electronics like holiday lights to less than 1,000 ppm. 
  • Most Holiday Lights are Required to Have Hazards Labels:  54% (37) of the light sets tested at levels above 300 ppm.  A California Proposition 65 settlement with electronics manufacturers in 2000 requires labels on these products.  The label language is shown below:

 

WARNING: This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer, and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

  • Safer Lights are Possible Many manufacturers are already doing it:two-thirds (69%) of the cable insulation on the light sets did not contain any lead, including many light sets which were made in China. And almost all brands tested had at least one light set which was lead free.  Lead-free stabilizers are commercially available and already being used.  These results show that manufacturers can make lead-free holiday lights

 

To sample the holiday lights, HealthyStuff.org experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer that identifies the elemental composition of materials. This accurate device has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and, by many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint.

HealthyStuff.org recommends consumers follow common sense precautions when handling holiday lights, including:

  • Wear gloves and wash hands when handling holiday lights.
  • Keep lights and cords out of reach of small children and pets when possible.

 

  • Look for lights that are RoHS compliant lights.  RoHS or the Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive is law in the European Union and restricts the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated dephenyl ethers (PBDE).
  • Some sources claim to carry RoHS compliant lights, include IKEA and http://www.environmentallights.com (Note:  HealthyStuff.org did test either company’s products).

 

  • Ask your local retailer to only stock lights that are RoHS compliant or, better yet, lead free!

 

About HealthyStuff.org – HealthyStuff.org is based on research conducted by environmental health organizations and other researchers around the country. The Ecology Center created HealthyStuff.org and leads its research and development. The Ecology Center is a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization that works at the local, state, and national levels for clean production, healthy communities, environmental justice, and a sustainable future.


*ATTN TV Reporters: B-Roll Available Upon Request*

STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:01 AM, Tues Oct. 19, 2010

CONTACT: Shayna Samuels, 718-541-4785 or Glenn Turner, 917-817-3396

Largest-Ever Study of Chemicals in
Home Improvement Products Finds Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium, Organotins and Other Harmful Ingredients

Study Finds Flooring & Wallpaper Contain Hazardous Additives
Already Restricted or Banned in Toys

Groups Call for Stronger Regulations of Toxic Chemicals in Consumer Products

(Ann Arbor, MI) -- Researchers known for exposing toxic chemicals in children's toys have turned their attention to home improvement products, finding ingredients in flooring and wallpaper that are linked to serious health problems. The nonprofit Ecology Center tested over 1,000 flooring samples and nearly 2,300 types of wallpaper for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The results were released today on the easy-to-use consumer website – www.HealthyStuff.org – which also includes prior research on toys, pet products, cars, women's handbags, back-to-school products and children's car seats.

"The public needs to know that there are practically no restrictions on chemicals used in home improvement products," said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center's lead researcher, who founded HealthyStuff.org. "Our testing shows that toxic chemicals show up everywhere in home improvement products. If we don't want these chemicals in our toys, we certainly don't want them in our floors."

HealthyStuff.org tested home improvement products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), pththalates and mercury.

Phthalates -- chemical additives used to soften PVC products -- were particularly prominent in flooring and wallpaper, raising a number of health concerns. For example, a 2008 European study (Kolarik 2008) found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children, especially when PVC flooring was in the child's bedroom. In addition some phthalates have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. Studies have also demonstrated possible links between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. Finally, a 2009 Swedish study (Larsson 2008) found that children who live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are twice as likely to have autism.

People spend about 90% of their time indoors, so indoor concentrations of hazardous chemicals can be more relevant to human exposure assessment than ambient concentrations. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable, since they are frequently close to the floor and therefore have high levels of exposure. In fact, many of these substances have already been restricted or banned in children's products.

In addition to finding many products with chemical hazards, HealthyStuff.org test data shows that many products do not contain dangerous substances, proving that safe products can be made.

Highlights of Findings from HealthyStuff.org's Home Improvement Study:

Flooring: Flooring that was tested includes wood, bamboo, cork, carpet cushion, sheet flooring, and vinyl and ceramic tiles.

  • 52 of 1,016 (5%) of all flooring samples had detectable levels of lead. Products with the highest percent of lead included: Vinyl Sheet Flooring: 23 of 731 (2%) samples of the vinyl sheet flooring had detectable levels of lead. Vinyl Tile Flooring: 29 of 39 (74%) of the tiles sampled contained detectable lead, with levels as high as 1,900 ppm.

  • Flooring samples contained numerous phthalates, at up to 12.9% by weight. Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates most vinyl flooring contains four phthalate plasticizers recently banned in children's products. Four representative samples of vinyl flooring were tested from two national brands, Armstrong and Congoleum, and two discount brands, Crystal and tiles sold through a local hardware chain.

  • Two-thirds 39 of 61 (64%) of PVC flooring tiles contained organotin stabilizers. Some forms of organotins are endocrine disruptors; and other forms can impact the developing brain and are toxic to the immune system.

  • Safe alternatives are available. Linoleum, cork, bamboo and hardwood all tested free of lead, cadmium, mercury and other hazardous metals. Non-vinyl flooring products are half as likely to contain hazardous chemical additives.
  • Wallpaper: HealthyStuff.org tested over 2,300 types of wallpaper, from 11 different brands and manufacturers.

  • The vast majority (96%) of the wallpapers sampled contained polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coatings.

  • Over one-half (53% or 1,234 of 2,312) of PVC wallpaper samples contained one or more hazardous chemicals of concern (at > 40 ppm levels) including lead, cadmium, chromium, tin and antimony.

  • Limited testing for phthalate plasticizers indicates that most PVC wallpaper also contains phthalates plasticizers which are now banned in children's products.

  • Nearly one in five (18% or 419 of 2,312) wallpaper samples contained detectable levels of cadmium (>40 ppm). 13% (290 of 2,312) had levels over 100 ppm. All wallpaper with cadmium was vinyl coated.
  • To sample the home improvement products experts used a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer and laboratory testing. XRF is an accurate device that has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint. Additional samples were analyzed by laboratories using EPA test methods.

    "With each new scientific report linking toxic chemical exposure to a serious health problem, it becomes more obvious that the law intended to keep harmful chemicals in check — the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 — is not working," said Andy Igrejas, Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a coalition of 250 groups, including the Ecology Center, working to overhaul our failed chemicals policy.

    In response to the increasing consumer demand for safer products, Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representatives Bobby Rush and Henry Waxman have introduced bills to overhaul TSCA. The Safe Chemicals Act in the Senate and the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act in the House are expected to be re-introduced in the next Congressional session.

    The full home improvement database and more information about what consumers can do is available at www.HealthyStuff.org.

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