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Consumer group: Potentially dangerous Christmas decorations sold at six major retailers

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Posted at 9:26 PM, Dec 18, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-18 21:26:40-05

An environmental advocacy group is calling on several major retailers to evaluate potential hazards in holiday decorations after a study raised questions about chemicals in light strings, garland and other items.

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based nonprofit, the Ecology Center, tested 69 seasonal products this year, including beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and gift bags.

Researchers said about two-thirds of these products contained substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities and other health problems.

Looking for last minute gift ideas? Check out our ShopSmart circulars.

Advocates with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families want retailers to work with suppliers to make products safer.

“This isn’t just a consumer health issue,” said Mike Schade, director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign. “This is an issue of corporate social responsibility.”

The Ecology Center found 13 percent of the holiday products researchers tested contained lead above 100 parts per million. Twelve percent of the products contained more than 800 parts per million of bromine, indicating the presence of brominated flame retardants, the center said.

Strings of Christmas lights also raised concerns, with high levels of lead and bromine.

“We’re not saying if you handle these products, you’re going to get sick,” Schade said. “We’re concerned about the cumulative exposure to chemicals.”

The study called out the following products:

Schade said there are between 70,000 and 80,000 chemicals on the market, though the federal government only regulates the use of about 200.

And while the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates chemicals and substances in toys, such regulations don’t extend to holiday decorations—even though they are often handled by youngsters as well.

“There is a loophole, and the regulations do not extend to these types of products,” Schade said.

Scott Wolfson, communications director for the CPSC, said the group is focused on where the risk is the highest.

“We’re focused on issues of life or death,” Wolfson said. “When is the last time you’ve heard of a child that was hurt by tinsel?”

When it comes to toys, the U.S. has some of the most stringent regulations in place when it comes to materials including lead, cadmium and phthalates, he added.

Phil Caruso, a spokesman for Walgreen’s, said he was unaware of the methodology used in the study and couldn’t comment on its accuracy.

“We have stringent requirements and proactively work with our vendors to ensure the quality, safety and regulatory compliance of the products we offer for sale,” Caruso said. 

Aaron Mullins, a spokesman for Walmart, said the company takes the issue of product safety seriously. 

"Standard testing procedures are in place for our products to help assure compliance with regulatory requirements and give customers trust in the quality, and safety of items we offer them," Mullins said in a statement. "We hold our suppliers to high standards and look to them to provide us with products that meet all applicable laws."

Evan Lapiska, a spokesman for Target, also said in a statement the retailer is focused on adhering to "all relevant standards." 

"We are committed to abiding by all state and federal laws and regulations, and we expect our vendors to do the same," Lapiska said.