Friday, September 19, 2014

Pollution Prevention Week: Product Testing

By Andrew Wineke, communications, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction

Sept. 15-21 is Pollution Prevention Week, and we’re taking the week to explore some of the ways Ecology is working to keep our air clean, our waters pure, and our communities safe from toxic chemicals.

Today, we’re looking at Ecology’s product testing efforts.

Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. Preventing pollution is hard enough. If we had to guess where pollution was coming from, it would be even harder. So one very important part of our pollution-prevention efforts is testing consumer products.

And product testing means just what it sounds like: Ecology staff members go to stores, buy a bunch of products, then bring them back to the lab and test them for chemicals of high concern.

Products slated for testing in Ecology's lab.

PCBs in consumer products

Here’s an example: Earlier this summer, Ecology chemist Alex Stone and product-testing specialist Chrissy Wiseman went on a shopping trip, searching for common products that might contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs (learn more in our Aug. 7 blog post). This chemical likely causes cancer and can have toxic effects on human immune, reproductive, nervous and hormone-regulation systems.

Of the 68 products tested, Alex and Chrissy found that three-quarters contained low levels of PCBs. Another 60 samples are being analyzed, and 40 more after that are waiting their turn.

A little history

In 2007, Ecology joined the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse, working with nine other states to test packaging from consumer products for four toxic metals. Packaging for products sold in Washington cannot contain more than a total of 100 parts per million of lead, cadmium, mercury, and hexavalent chromium.

Ecology expanded its product-testing work in 2009 with funds from a settlement with the toymaker Mattel after some of the company's children's products were found to contain high levels of lead. We used this funding to test children's products for 32 of the 66 chemicals of high concern to children. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency provided funding to test general consumer and children's products for toxic flame retardants (learn more in our June 25 blog post).

Product testing has been an increasingly important part of Ecology's reducing toxic threats initiative. Earlier this year, the Legislature provided funding to make consumer product testing an ongoing program at Ecology. Testing products is the only way Ecology can make sure that products sold in Washington comply with our state’s laws.
The XRF analyzer in the product sampling
lab allows Ecology staff to quickly
screen products for toxic chemicals.

Looking forward

Ecology just opened a new product testing lab that will help us quickly screen products. It also provides a secure area to store product samples while enforcement cases are pending.The product testing lab will support our work on the Children's Safe Product Act, Better Brakes, Toxics in Packaging, and other Legislative directives aimed at persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemicals.

In addition to metals, PCBs, and flame retardants, Ecology also tests products for phthalates, bisphenol-A, parabens, and a number of other chemicals. We use these tests to help us tell whether manufacturers are following state laws. We also use the tests to develop action plans for chemicals we’re concerned about, which help us identify major sources of the chemical and figure out the best opportunities to reduce its use.

More information

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