Health department lists nine toxic chemicals in children's products

Cadmium jewelry
This 2009 file photo shows a "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" charm. Barred from using lead in children's jewelry because of its toxicity, some Chinese manufacturers have been substituting the more dangerous heavy metal cadmium in sparkling charm bracelets and shiny pendants being sold throughout the United States, an Associated Press investigation shows.
AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The Minnesota Department of Health published a list Monday of nine toxic chemicals that are present in children's products.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency collaborated on the list, which was mandated by the state's Toxic Free Kids Act, passed in 2009.

WIDE RANGE OF OFFENDERS

The chemicals range from well-known toxins that can cause organ damage and developmental delays to some lesser-known chemicals that may affect reproduction.

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Not surprisingly, lead made the list. It has been banned in paint since 1977, but the heavy metal is still causing neurological problems for kids exposed to lead dust from old houses and from lead used to make cheap children's jewelry.

Cadmium, another heavy metal found increasingly in kids' jewelry, also is on the list. Cadmium can cause kidney damage as well as skeletal problems.

Nancy Rice, an environmental research scientist at the Health Department who helped compile the list, said formaldehyde is another widely used chemical that is of concern for children.

"That's been found largely in composite wood products like furniture for the home, or in cabinets for the home," Rice said. "It can also be found in some household cleaners or personal care products."

Formaldehyde aggravates asthma and can cause cancer.

Three types of pthalates, which are plasticizers most often used in making toys, are also on the list. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has banned pthalates at levels greater than .1 percent. But Rice said the chemicals, which have been linked to developmental and reproductive problems in lab studies, are still ubiquitous.

"They still can be found in things like fragrances that are in personal care products," Rice said. "They're found in vinyl flooring and in wall coverings. And they're possibly in things like shower curtains or imitation leather as well. So they're pretty prevalent in the home environment."

Bisphenol A also made the list. Minnesota already bans the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups. But it is still present in the lining of infant formula cans. BPA has been associated with developmental problems.

The last two chemicals on the list are flame retardants. Hexabromocyclododecane and decabromodiphenyl ether are not strictly used in children's products, but they are so widely used in textiles that children likely come into contact with them.

The nine chemicals on the Health Department's list are not all of the toxins that cause concern in Minnesota. They are just the ones that met the criteria of being in widespread production and found readily in humans or the environment.

DIFFICULT TO TRACK

Just because they're found nearly everywhere doesn't mean it will be easy for parents to find any of these chemicals on a list of product ingredients.

Kathleen Schuler, co-directer of the Minnesota-based consumer advocacy group Healthy Legacy, said companies are not required to disclose if they use some of these ingredients in their products.

"We'd like government agencies to take a step further and that is actually require manufacturers to tell us if these chemicals are in their products and to move on to some restrictions," Schuler said. "So that consumers can know that when they go out and they buy products for their kids that they don't have some of these priority toxic chemicals in them."

In the absence of that requirement, Schuler said there are a few precautions parents can take now to reduce their kids exposure. She recommended powdered infant formula over the liquid formula, which is more likely to have Bisphenol A in it.

When furniture shopping, Schuler said to look for brands that advertise low-formaldehyde products. And she would avoid personal care products that are scented because they often contain pthalates.

"As far as the bath products, I would look for products that are fragrance-free," she said. "There's also a safe cosmetics database. So you can look up products on that to find which ones are free of toxic chemicals."

Healthy Legacy plans to work with lawmakers to introduce legislation this session that would put greater restrictions on the sale of these chemicals in Minnesota. Schuler said the Health Department's new list of priority chemicals will make it easier for her group to convince lawmakers that they need to do more to regulate toxic chemicals.