Monday, December 26, 2011

Chemical Presence in your Christmas Presents?

(World Wide Health) Friends of the Earth have advised Christmas shoppers to beware of hidden toxic chemicals lurking in their Christmas shopping baskets. Risky chemicals in popular gift items mean that what is intended as a Christmas treat can in fact be a chemical threat.

Christmas smellies, children's toys and chocolate treats may all be contaminated with risky chemicals. And not all the threats will be listed on the label, so even wary customers may find more than they bargained for in the gifts they buy.

Christmas smellies
Perfumes and bath-time smellies, often top of Christmas wish lists, can contain artificial musks - chemicals used to fragrance products. These chemicals have been shown to build up in our body fat and in breast milk and some are known to disrupt the human hormone system by mimicking female hormones.

Shoppers can avoid artificial musks by checking the labels and choosing products that are free from "parfum" or "fragrance". Why not give products fragranced with natural essential oils as an alternative smelly gift?

Skin creams and cosmetics may also contain triclosan. This antibacterial chemical has raised concerns because it is known to build up in the human body. Some European Governments have issued press statements discouraging its use in household and personal hygiene products. But triclosan should always be listed as an ingredient on the product label and so is easy to avoid.

Children's toys
Plastic children's toys, especially those made of PVC, can contain phthalates. This group of ‘gender bender' chemicals is used to soften plastic and has been linked to reproductive problems and the apparent earlier onset of puberty in girls. Babies and toddlers are particularly at risk from the health threats posed by phthalates because their bodies are still developing. The European Union is so concerned by the risks posed by phthalates leaking out of plastics when chewed that it has put in place an emergency ban of phthalates in teething toys for children under the age of three. But phthalates are still found in non-teething toys for under-threes and in plastic toys for older children. And babies will chew anything, whether it is designed to be chewed or not.

To avoid phthalates, shoppers should ask for PVC-free toys and try to avoid plastic toys altogether. Some manufacturers such as Ikea and Lego have told Friends of the Earth they do not use phthalates in the products they sell, and other toy companies have committed themselves to a PVC-free policy.

Chocolate treats
Even a tasty chocolate treat hides hidden threats as traces of the pesticide lindane have been found in chocolate sold in the UK. Lindane has been linked to breast cancer, birth defects and damage to the nervous system and has now been banned in the European Union. But it is still used by some cocoa growers in West Africa - putting plantation workers at risk - and traces were found in pesticide tests of Cadbury's chocolate earlier this year. Chocolate lovers can avoid the threat by buying organic chocolate - and buying a fair-trade label will ensure the growers have received a fair price for their produce as well.

Friends of the Earth is campaigning for tough new European laws to control the use of chemicals in products, with draft laws currently being considered by the European Commission. The UK Government has recently published its draft position on the new EU laws but Friends of the Earth is calling on Ministers to take a tougher position on chemicals that build up in the body and disrupt the hormone system so that they are phased out of consumer products.

High street retailers are also backing the campaign for safer chemicals by signing up to Friends of the Earth's risky chemicals pledge. Twelve stores have so far signed.

Friends of the Earth Safer Chemicals Campaigner Clare Oxborrow said:

"A Christmas gift should be a source of pleasure, not a cause for concern, yet all kinds of risky chemicals lurk in the presents we will give and receive. Shoppers can take steps to reduce their exposure to these chemical surprises, but ultimately UK and European politicians, consumer product manufacturers and retailers should join forces and make a Christmas promise to get rid of risky chemicals in consumer products."