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This Halloween Eliminate Those Scary Chemicals

captain_americaBy Deirdre Imus-As children, Halloween is scary. We dress up in costume, troll for candy, visit haunted houses, and re-tell creepy stories about that abandoned car in the woods. Eventually we outgrow some of this silliness, but retain the good humor of it all for the sake of our own children.  As adults, we no longer fear the ghosts and goblins in our midst. But it turns out that on Halloween (and every other day!), there are much scarier forces at work, and they are anything but urban legend.

The website HealthyStuff.org recently released a report on the toxicity of Halloween costumes, accessories, decorations and party favors. Created by The Ecology Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization, HealthyStuff.org’s latest research is flat out frightening. It’s the kind of stuff that just might send a shudder down your spine, no matter how old you are.

Chemicals like lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates abound in Halloween gear, and have been associated with asthma, reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, hormone problems, and cancer. What’s more, the report notes that such products are largely unregulated for chemical hazards, and there is no adequate system in place to regulate or restrict these chemicals. 

The items detailed in the report included a silver princess tiara containing flame retardants; a toddler Batman costume rife with phthalates and lead; trick-or-treat bags featuring flame retardants; and Disney wall art also made with phthalates. These items are sold at nationwide retailers like Target, Walgreens, CVS, Party City, and others.  The HealthyStuff.org report does not test Halloween makeup, but many of these products contain toxins too.

You may counter the dire results of this report by observing: Halloween comes but once a year – could just ONE DAY of exposing children to such chemicals REALLY make that much of a difference?

To which I reply: All environmental exposures matter. None of us lives in a bubble, and our children especially don’t. They are little explorers, engaging with their surroundings in ways adults often do not. (How many times has your kid touched something disgusting, and deposited that hand directly into their mouth? Or licked the slide at the playground?)

Children are also more vulnerable to environmental toxins. They are not just little adults. Pound for pound of body weight, they take in more air, water and food than adults. Once a hazardous exposure has occurred, kids have a potentially longer timeframe than adults do for an adverse health outcome (asthma, cancer, etc.) to develop.

Luckily, there are plenty of alternative to store-bought contaminated costumes. Search for DIY ideas online, many of which promote the use of recycled materials. Boxes, craft paper, nontoxic paints, vintage clothing and accessories can all be used to create one-of-a-kind costumes that you and your kids will be proud of – because not only are they healthier, but they are also unique, and usually hilarious.  For more guidelines on safe practices for Halloween, costume or otherwise, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics website

In our modern society, fear is never in short supply. This Halloween, eliminate chemicals from the equation, and give the whole family one less thing to be scared of - that is, until the latest version of what happened to that abandoned car in the woods emerges. BOO!

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