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.
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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:
- Walgreen’s retailed Santa hanging décor: 1,400 ppm bromine, 1,300 ppm chlorine, 290 ppm antimony.
- Lowe’s retailed beaded garland: 11,000 ppm bromine, 16,000 ppm chlorine, 600 ppm lead, 2,100 ppm antimony.
- Lowe’s retailed silver bells: 120,000 ppm chlorine, 370 ppm lead, 290 ppm antimony.
- Kroger retailed red bead garland: 13,000 ppm bromine, 17,000 ppm chlorine, 140 ppm lead, 3,900 ppm antimony, 150 ppm tin.
- Kroger retailed silver jingle bell door hanger: 150 ppm arsenic, 1,900 ppm chlorine, 170 ppm lead, 1,500 ppm tin.
- Walmart retailed poinsettia wreath: 900 ppm bromine, 6,500 ppm chlorine, 830 ppm lead, 230 ppm antimony.
- Target retailed decorative tree: 1,400 ppm chlorine and 2,100 ppm lead.
- Target retailed holiday swag bundle: 2,400 ppm bromine, 24,700 ppm chlorine, 670 ppm antimony, 152 ppm tin.
- CVS retailed 18 foot lighted garland: 65,800 ppm bromine, 310,000 ppm chlorine, 170 ppm lead, 10,200 ppm antimony, 2,300 ppm tin.
- Dollar Tree retailed decorative bows: 426,000 ppm chlorine, 1,100 ppm tin.
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.