Skip to main content

Arsenic In Your Undershorts

New report finds over 5,000 children’s products contain hazardous chemicals

Last week, the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States released an analysis of reports filed by the makers of children’s products that showed over 5,000 kids’ products contain chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and other negative health effects. Thanks to a groundbreaking Washington State law, makers of children’s products have been required to reveal the toxic chemicals in their products. Now we have more information than ever before on the chemicals being used in products intended for children.

The Gap, J.C. Penney, Gymboree, H & M, and even Walmart came clean on the chemicals in their products.  It might be tempting to pat these companies on the back for complying with the law (there are, most likely, companies that should have reported chemicals in their products but didn’t—Disney comes to mind. But the real disturbing news is the vast numbers of products that contain chemicals we know aren’t good for kids’ health. And that is a situation that just can’t stand.

Products reported included arsenic in Hallmark party hats and Walmart underwear, bisphenol A (BPA) in Walmart dolls, and formaldehyde in Claire’s cosmetics. But now that consumers and policymakers are starting to get a handle
on the scope of the problem, I’d guess the tolerance for cancer-causing chemicals in our underwear is waning.


There is hope. Thanks to action by state legislatures across the country and consumer pressure, many companies are seeing the writing on the wall when it comes to using chemicals that aren’t good for kids.  A new article in Environmental Health News points out that after the Washington state reporting law passed, companies like Gap announced they were phasing out of certain chemicals on Washington’s list. With states like New York, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont considering similar reporting programs, more and more companies may have to disclose the chemicals in their products and, hopefully, identify ways to stop using the most harmful ones in their products.

Retailers, too, have a role to play too in helping to change the marketplace.  If stores are unwilling to sell products containing harmful chemicals, manufacturers are more likely to stop making those products. Thanks to efforts like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign retail store shelves may soon have less harmful chemicals on them.

Unfortunately, for some companies making less toxic products doesn’t always appear to be a priority.  For example, here in Washington State, we couldn’t help noticing that one of the biggest reporters of chemicals in children’s products was Walmart. They reported a total of 459 instances of products containing chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, phthalates, bisphenol A, and mercury.  That’s a lot of products and chemicals.

It’s maddening to see these reports and know that Walmart was a major opponent of Washington State’s Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, a bill to ban toxic flame retardants in kids’ products and home furniture.  They allied with Big Chemical (aka the American Chemistry Council) and others to help kill the bill in the last days of the regular legislation session.

It’s time Walmart and other companies get serious about removing harmful chemicals from their products and stop fighting critical state legislation that protects kids.

Arsenic in our undershorts? No thanks.