Thursday, February 12, 2015

Tough love for teddy

A teddy bear with its head ripped open. A squishy child’s toy, cut to ribbons. A heart-shaped box, crushed.

This isn’t a Valentine’s Day massacre – it’s the tough love our product testing team gives to the toys, knickknacks, and assorted endearments that line store shelves this time of year.  They may look adorable, but some of these items may contain lead, phthalates, or other toxic chemicals that manufacturers are required to report under Washington’s Children’s Safe Product Act.

Ecology's product testing team makes regular visits to local stores to buy seasonal products for testing to ensure products don’t contain banned chemicals and that manufacturers are correctly reporting the chemicals used in their products.

Why seasonal items?
Because holiday items arrive in a rush and disappear just as quickly, they raise special concerns for protecting children. Testing lets us know whether manufacturers are following state laws. 

The presence of a chemical in a product does not necessarily mean it’s unsafe. However, some chemicals have been banned for specific uses because they pose special concerns, such as lead in packaging.

Tests show most manufacturers are following laws that regulate the use of toxic chemicals. When Ecology finds a chemical in a product that is banned or requires reporting, we notify the manufacturer and work to bring them into compliance. If necessary, Ecology may have to issue a financial penalty to ensure that companies comply with the law. 

Testing, testing, testing
In the product testing facility at Ecology’s Lacey building, holiday products are sorted, screened and processed. An X-ray fluorescence analyzer, or XRF, is used to screen the items for heavy metals and other elements. Those that may contain chemicals of concern are sent to a laboratory for an analysis of their chemical ingredients.

Unfortunately, this processing and analysis takes some time, so most of today’s Valentine mementos will be memories by the time Ecology issues its product testing report later this spring. However, the test results give us and other state agencies the data they need to work with retailers and manufacturers in time for future holidays.

So all of that slicing and dicing is for a good cause in the end -- even if it is a little rough on Teddy.

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