Toxic chemicals in Christmas decorations may presage growing consumer toxic concern

It is tough to conduct reliable polling on consumer environmental health concerns but there is some evidence to suggest that some consumers are becoming more concerned about toxic chemicals in household products. Thus a study by the Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization, which recently found toxic substances in common Christmas decorations, may be a caution flag not only for the decor industry but also for packaging materials, paper and plastic toys, and many other household products. If, as a brandowner, you are not certain that your products are free from toxic substances then this year may be a good year to find out, before someone else finds out and publishes the results.

GallonDaily is not endorsing the methodology of HealthyStuff.org, the program of the Ecology Center which conducted the testing. They have assumed that the presence of particular elements, particularly bromine, chlorine, lead, antimony, and tin, indicates the presence of hazardous flame retardants. They also assume that the presence of these substances indicates that hazardous substances will be released from the Christmas decorations into the household environment or into people who come into contact with the decorations. While not implausible these are not necessarily correct assumptions. However, such is the world of ngo and media testing for toxic substances in household products. If the brandowner does not have a quick and scientifically supported rebuttal then the product may be consigned to the scrap heap of toxic substances in the court of public opinion. There may also be concurrent damage to the brandowner’s reputation.

Highlights of the HealthyStuff.org testing included:

  • high levels of lead in a plastic poinsettia wreath and a decorative tree, with the lead in the tree being in the metal part of the ornament
  • high levels of bromine, which may be from flame retardants, in a couple of garlands
  • high levels of antimony, possibly also from flame retardants, in garlands
  • high levels of chlorine in a garland and also in part of some decorative antlers
  • high levels of tin in placemats and garlands, with the placemats being of particular concern to GallonDaily because they are the kind of thing that youngsters may chew on. Some organotin compounds are suspected endocrine disruptors or may be neurotoxins.

The complete study report, which includes retailer and brandowner names, may be accessed through a link at http://www.healthystuff.org

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