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Hazardous chemicals found in children's rain gear

Posted on June 14, 2013

vinyl raincoats

By Mike Schade from the Center for Health, Environment & Justice

With the summer only a few weeks away, many parents are going out and buying new rain gear—but parents may unwittingly be exposing our most vulnerable children to lead, cadmium, and even phthalates, chemicals so toxic they have been banned in toys and baby products.

A brand new investigation of vinyl rain gear by the EcoWaste Coalition found elevated levels of lead and cadmium in vinyl raincoats marketed to children. Chemicals that can cause permanently disrupt the brain. Shockingly, 70% of raingear they tested contained elevated levels of lead or cadmium.

This follows a similar report I authored last year which also found high levels of toxic chemicals in children's vinyl raincoats and rain boots, including Disney branded rain gear. This time, a Mickey Mouse raincoat contained 2,255 ppm of lead in it.

Who conducted the study?

The EcoWaste coalition, a public interest network of community, church, school, environmental and health groups based in the Philippines, used an X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) to test rain gear for the presence of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. The XRF device is also able to identify products made out of PVC, as a high chlorine reading from the device indicates the product is most likely made out of vinyl (vinyl being the #1 chlorinated plastic in the world not to mention the #1 use of chlorine gas).

The organization went out and tested 33 pieces of rain gear: 25 raincoats, 5 umbrellas, and 3 pairs of rain boots. The products were purchased from discount stores at shopping malls in the Philippines.

High levels of lead and cadmium in children's vinyl raincoats:

The group found:

"Of the 25 samples of raincoats that are mostly made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and featuring favorite cartoon characters, 11 had lead from 292 to 15,500 ppm with the following as the five most loaded with lead:
  1. An egg yellow “Tweety” medium raincoat with 15,500 ppm
  2. Another egg yellow “Tweety” small raincoat with 14,100 ppm
  3. A light yellow “Mickey Mouse” small raincoat with 2,255 ppm
  4. A bright yellow “Yikang” two-piece large raincoat with 2,090 ppm
  5. A blue “Tasmanian Devil” raincoat with 1,753 ppm
Of these 25 raincoats, 13 were found laced with cadmium with a green “Haiyan Ben 10” extra large raincoat containing 717 ppm cadmium.

Of the five umbrellas tested, lead was detected on the “Hello Kitty” design of two mini-umbrellas at 122 ppm and 275 ppm each.

Of the three pairs of boots, "Pengi" green boots and “Panda” red boots were found laden with cadmium amounting to 398 ppm and 523 ppm, respectively.”

Children may in turn be exposed to these hazardous metals, as studies have documented they may readily leach out of vinyl children's products. Lead and cadmium are used to "stabilize" the product.

Phthalates in vinyl raincoats and rain boots:

You may think, well that’s the Philippines, surely the US government wouldn't allow such hazardous chemicals here, right?

Wrong.

As I mentioned above, less than a year ago CHEJ and the Empire State Consumer Project released a report investigating hazardous chemical additives in children's back-to-school supplies. Among the products we tested were children's vinyl raincoats and rain boots.

Our investigation found high levels of phthalates in the rain gear we tested, at levels much higher than what's legal for kids' toys. But just because the products aren't toys, it’s totally legal for industry to use them in children's products. Insane, right?! Phthalates are considered to be endocrine disrupting chemicals, are linked to asthma and reproductive effects, and according to the federal government children face the highest exposures to these poisonous substances. It’s nothing short of outrageous!

What can we do about it?

Look, I shouldn't have to even say this. We shouldn't have to worry whether your children's raincoat contains these harmful chemicals. But sadly, we do.

As consumers, the best way to avoid these hazardous substances is to not purchase vinyl rain-gear in the first place as study after study has found hazardous chemicals in and leaching from vinyl. Whether it be phthalates, lead, cadmium, organotins, or even BPA. And perhaps even worse, the entire lifecycle of vinyl is nothing short of an environmental nightmare, releasing other highly hazardous substances including vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, dioxins, mercury, and PCB's.

So next time you're out shopping for a children's raincoat or rain boots, make sure it's not made out of vinyl/PVC plastic. Look for rain gear promoted as PVC-free. Our Back-to-School Guide to PVC-free School Supplies is a great resource, as it features listings PVC-free rain gear and other children's products in over 40 product categories. Also—be sure to check out our wallet-sized version for shopping on the go.

It's time to Mind the Store!

However, we can't just shop our way out of this problem. Enough is enough! That's why CHEJ is part of the national Mind the Store Campaign, which is urging the top ten retailers to take action on the worst of the worst chemicals, including these very same ones.

Learn more and take action at www.mindthestore.org

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