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New Study of picnic supplies finds lead, phthalates, flame Retardants, organotins and other harmful ingredients

Study: Toxic chemicals ‘even follow us into the outdoors’

Mind the Store Calls on Top Ten Retailers to Phase Out Toxics
(Ann Arbor, MI) — Researchers released a new study of chemical hazards in picnic products sold at top ten national retailers, finding most have one or more hazardous chemicals linked to serious health problems. The nonprofit Ecology Center tested 58 common outdoor picnic products for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. Products tested included tablecloths, placemats, picnic baskets, coolers, water toys, folding chairs and umbrellas purchased from 8 of the top 10 national retailers: Lowes, Home Depot, Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart, Kroger and Costco. The results were released today on the easy-to-use consumer website –– which also includes prior research on toys, car seats, pet products, cars, women’s handbags, back-to-school products and children’s car seats.

“It’s outrageous that we can’t even enjoy the outdoors without these industrial hazards coming along for the ride,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s lead researcher. “Our testing shows that there is no escaping toxic chemicals. They show up everywhere, they’re in our cars, our homes, our offices and now we know they even follow us into the outdoors.” tested picnic products for chemicals based on their toxicity or tendency to build up in people and the environment. These chemicals include lead, bromine (brominated flame retardants), chlorine (PVC and chlorinated flame retardants), cadmium, arsenic, tin (organotins), phthalates and mercury. In conjunction with release of the new test data, the Mind the Store retailer campaign released a new guide to the 10 toxic products you don’t what at your picnic.

Phthalates — chemical additives used to soften PVC products — were prominent in vinyl tablecloth, vinyl coated fabric chairs, water toys and garden hoses. 22% of the commercial use of one phthalate, DEHP, is in outdoor products. Phthalate compounds leach, migrate, or off-gas from PVC-containing items into air, dust, water, soils, sediments, and food. While indoor exposures to phthalates is the most critical source of exposure, outdoor products can release phthalates when stored indoors and increase overall phthalate release in the environment. These chemicals have become ubiquitous environmental contaminants and have been associated with number of adverse health effects.

A 2008 European study (Kolarik 2008) found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children. Moreover, some phthalates have endocrine-disrupting properties, meaning that they can disturb normal hormonal processes, often at low levels of exposure. Other studies have demonstrated possible links between phthalates and adverse impacts on the reproductive system, kidneys, liver, and blood. Children and pets are particularly vulnerable, since they are frequently close to the ground and therefore have high levels of exposure. Many of the substances found in the picnic products have already been restricted or banned in children’s products.

Fortunately, test data also showed that many products did not contain dangerous substances, proving that safer products can be made.

Highlights of Findings from’s Picnic Study:

What did we find?

  • Almost all (96%) products contained at least one or more chemicals of concern at detectable levels (40 ppm). One-third (36%) had three or more.
  • 40% (23 of 58) contained PVC or chlorinated flame retardants (chlorine above 3,500 ppm) and 7% (4 of 58) contained brominated flame retardants (bromine above 400 ppm).
  • Hazardous heavy metals were also found in picnic products; 31% (18 of 58) had levels of antimony above 100 ppm; 22% (13 of 58) had levels of tin above 100 ppm. Four products contained levels of lead above 100 ppm including a fabric tablecloth that contained 1/4 pound of lead weights (4 one ounce lead weights sewn into each corner).
  • Four products contained one or more phthalates. A folding chair with a vinyl coating contained 17.1% by weight phthalates (16% DEHP and 1.1% DINP) and over 1,000 ppm antimony.

Worst Products By Retailer




Home Depot

* Products tested in April 2013

To sample the picnic products experts used a High Definition X-Ray Fluorescence (HD XRF) analyzer and laboratory testing. XRF is an accurate device that has been used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to screen packaging; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to screen food; and many State and County Health Departments to screen for residential lead paint. Additional samples were analyzed by laboratories using EPA test methods.

Bipartisan legislation called the “Chemical Safety Improvement Act,” was recently introduced in Congress. The bill is intended to fix the nation’s woefully inadequate toxics law. Most health and environment advocates say the proposal is laden with red ink and other flaws and must be made stronger before it is enacted into law.

“While Congress debates, retailers can make immediate changes that will protect their customers,” said Andy Igrejas, executive director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Those changes will ripple across the marketplace and earn customer loyalty while making us all healthier.”

All of the study results and more information about what consumers can do is available now Mind the Store is a national retailer campaign to remove toxic chemicals from the shelves of the top ten national retailers. More information can be found

For more information, contact: Jeff Gearhart, 734-369-9276