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Consumer Alert: Halloween Costumes Can be Toxic

October 25, 2010

BOSTON - Halloween costumes can be scary - although Massachusetts parents may not realize just how scary. But they could be exposing their children to lead and other chemicals if they aren't careful about choosing costumes. The Environmental Working Group has found lead and chromium in face paint and other contaminants, such as PVC, in masks and spray-on hair color.

Environmental Working Group spokeswoman Leeann Brown says it's hard to know what's safe, because reading the labels doesn't always help.

"The contaminants we found weren't listed on the label. We had to test for them to find them."

Pediatrician Marny Turnvil says she's not surprised by the findings.

"We have over 80,000 chemicals approved for use in consumer goods, almost none of which have undergone any safety testing on themselves, and absolutely no safety testing exists on combinations of chemicals that we encounter every day."

Some say why worry - many adults today were exposed to parents who smoked in the home and hardly anyone worried about reading labels. But Dr. Turnvil says the toxic soup gets worse with each generation.

"They are starting their lives with a bigger body burden of chemicals to begin with because we have exponentially increased the number of chemicals in our society every ten years since 1940.

Dr. Turnvil says there are other ways to do things.

"Faces don't have to be painted. You can use yarn to make hair. You can use pipe cleaners to make whiskers."

Brown says many of the items tested that contained contaminants came from unknown companies. She urges parents to do some research about companies and products ahead of time, or just get creative this week and make costumes themselves.

"Safe Halloween" tips are online at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA