With October 31st quickly approaching, concern over the safety of Halloween products grows. Over the past 10 years, the majority of Halloween-related product recalls have occurred in October, which seems to suggest that hazardous products are pulled quickly, as soon as they hit the shelves. However, taking a closer look, we note that recalled Halloween products were sold for an average of 11 months before they were recalled, with some generating sales for two years or more before being recalled. About half were recalled within five months.
In the US, Halloween items are most often recalled due to lead poisoning and fire hazards. Parents have reason to be cautious, especially when items like funny teeth contaminated with lead may not be recalled until after their child has been holding them in their mouth.
It is not just a US problem. Other countries are calling for more testing and tighter restrictions on children’s holiday items so that these hazards can be spotted before the items make it into stores.
In the Philippines, one concerned group, The EcoWaste Coalition, sponsored a chemical study on multiple Halloween products. The findings are troubling.
(The following was reprinted with permission from The EcoWaste Coalition)
At a press briefing held in Quezon City, the EcoWaste Coalition divulged the results of the tests it instigated to find out if toxic metals are present in seasonal accessories, face and body paints, masks, pumpkin buckets, vampire teeth and other Halloween favourites.
“Our latest chemical analysis confirms the presence of toxic metals, particularly cadmium, lead and mercury, in Halloween products often used by kids and adults in merrymaking,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.
“The test results, we hope, will inform and strengthen the ongoing drive by the government and other sectors to rid the market of products containing dangerous chemicals,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
The EcoWaste Coalition collaborated with QES (Manila), Inc. to screen 60 Halloween products for antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury using a device called X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), a handheld chemical analyzer routinely used by government regulatory bodies and private companies in the US.
The products were purchased from well-established retail outlets located in the cities of Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila and Quezon, in Cainta, Rizal and bargain shops in Divisoria, Manila.
The tests indicated that out of 60 samples:
a. 42 (70%) had at least one toxic metal above levels of concern.
b. 36 (60%) had cadmium up to 199 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the 75 ppm limit under H.R. 4428, the proposed “Children’s Toxic Metals Act” of the USA.
c. 10 (17%) had lead as high as 3,463 ppm, way beyond the 90 ppm limit under the US Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
d. 2 (3%) had mercury, including a crayon body paint with 239 ppm of mercury, way above the 1 ppm limit for mercury in cosmetics by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines.
The tests also showed that none of the 42 products tainted with toxic chemicals specified on the labels that they contain such substances of concern.
Also, only 5 of the 60 samples had the mandatory license to operate (LTO) number on their labels, and 55 had zero or incomplete product information, denying consumers of their “right to know,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.
Citing information about the health impacts of chemicals from the website of the World Health Organization (WHO), the EcoWaste Coalition reminded consumers that:
1. Cadmium is classified as a human carcinogen and has toxic effects on the kidneys, the skeletal and the respiratory systems.
2. Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems, including the neurologic, hematologic, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems.
3. Mercury poses a particular threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life and has toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.
To address the problem with toxic children’s products, the EcoWaste Coalition strongly urged the industry not to manufacture, import, distribute or sell toys and other children’s products that contain chemicals of concern such as those found in the Philippine Priority Chemicals List.
The group also urged well-meaning wholesalers and retailers to refuse to sell children’s products unless these have been tested for safety, registered with the authorities and labelled with vital information, including chemical ingredients and their health and environmental effects.
With Halloween and Christmas just around the corner, the EcoWaste Coalition called on concerned government agencies to launch a unified campaign with the civil society and the mass media to rid the market of untested, unregistered and unlabelled toys and other children’s products.
The campaign should involve the Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Customs, the Departments of Health and Trade and Industry, the Philippine National Police and concerned local government units, the EcoWaste Coalition said.
The EcoWaste Coalition is an environmental health group in the Philippines promoting awareness and action toward chemical safety.