March Badness? Toxic chemicals found in university fan gear

March Madness rivalry is heating up at Which universities sport the most toxic memorabilia? And which retailers are keeping the most toxic university products on their shelves?

A total of 65 products were tested representing 19 U.S. universities. These products were purchased from 7 retailers, including Home Depot (7), Kroger (8), Pro Image Sports (5), Target (15), UConn Co-op Bookstore (4), Walgreens (12), and Walmart (14).

Summary Findings:

  • Of the 18 products screened for phthalates, 16 tested positive for the presence of phthalate plasticizers banned by CPSC in children’s products.
  • 71% (46 of 65) of the products contained at least one or more chemicals of concern, such as lead, mercury, phthalates, and toxic flame retardants.
  • Over one third (25 of 65) of the products contained at least two or more chemicals of concern.
  • Approximately 34% of the products tested (23 of 65) contained chlorine levels above 3,500 ppm, suggesting the use of chlorinated flame retardants or PVC.
  • Six of the products tested had bromine levels above 400 ppm, suggesting the use of brominated flame retardants. The highest level of bromine detected was 5,027 ppm on a University of Michigan Jersey purchased at Target.
  • Five of the products tested contained lead above 100 ppm and the University of Michigan Jersey that had high levels of bromine also contained 131 ppm of lead in the ink print.
  • A Michigan State University Seat Cushion contained high levels of both cadmium (226 ppm) and lead (176 ppm).
  • Two products tested had high levels of arsenic
    • University of Michigan Keychain with Carabineer (125 ppm)
    • University of Minnesota Premium Acrylic Key Ring (246 ppm)
  • A University of Michigan Deluxe Key Ring contained 1,230 ppm of mercury
Healthier Alternatives Found in the Study

A variety of products highlight that safer alternatives are already on the market. Over 20 products rated of low concern and they illustrate a range of approaches and materials choices manufactures have taken to produce healthier products. Many of these products avoid the use of flexible vinyl which often contains hazardous additives.

Some examples:

Duke UniversityMesh Baby Bib: This is an example of a product which uses non-PVC, non phthalate plastisols for screen print graphics.

Duke University Plastic Tumbler:BPA free, acrylic tumbler is better choice. Non-PVC plastic grips.

University of Wisconsin Gas Grill Cover: This product is PVC and phthalate free, and advertises itself as a healthy product.

Michigan State University Hooded Rain Poncho: Polyethylene poncho is a great PVC-free alternative for rain gear.

For this study, collaborated with state level organizations working on chemicals policy reform including Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (Michigan), Healthy Legacy Coalition (Minnesota), Clean Water Action (Connecticut and Florida), Learning Disabilities Association of Oklahoma (Oklahoma), Toxic Free North Carolina (North Carolina),Washington Toxics Coalition (Washington), Ohio Environmental Council (Ohio), Oregon Environmental Council (Oregon) and Women for a Healthy Environment (Pennsylvania).

Full Results

Click here to download our March Badness Fact Sheet

One team will win the Most Toxic Product award. Take a look at's Toxic Bracket and cast your vote today. This toxic tourney ends March 28, 2014.

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