September 2, 2014

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No trick: Halloween items have high lead content

Witches, skulls and Frankenstein aren’t supposed to be dangerous in real life.

But an Ashland University chemistry professor’s testing of several Halloween items has turned up three that contained unacceptable levels of lead in the paint used to decorate them.

Representatives for Dollar General and Family Dollar, where Jeff Weidenhamer and his students purchased the items, said Wednesday that the three items have been pulled from their stores nationwide.

“We take the safety of our customers very seriously,” said Josh Braverman, a spokesman for Family Dollar, which on Tuesday pulled a candy bucket featuring a picture of a witch because of Weidenhamer’s findings.

The witch candy bucket, and a Frankenstein cup and skull candy bucket the students purchased at an Ashland-area Dollar General were among 22 tested by Weidenhamer, who has worked with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to forward the information to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“We’re not trying to scare parents out of Halloween,” Brown said.

Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Commission, said an official recall hasn’t been issued yet, but Weidenhamer’s findings are being investigated.

“We must follow up and verify that information before action is taken,” Davis said.

Brown on Wednesday said Weidenhamer’s test results show that rules that once protected consumers from lead paint and other hazards have been relaxed by the Bush administration, which has held profits for companies above safety.

“The safety net has begun to fray,” Brown said.

Weidenhamer said any level of lead is dangerous to children, according to Centers for Disease Control findings. Each exposure has a cumulative effect that can cause developmental and other problems for children who are exposed, he said.

“Even very small amounts do have an effect,” Weidenhamer said.

Tawn Earnest, a spokeswoman for Dollar General, said the Frankenstein cup, which was purchased directly by the company from a plant in China, was tested for lead paint and passed. But the company suspects the manufacturer may have changed paint at some point.

The skull candy bucket was purchased from a domestic company, Earnest said, but the company began pulling both items off the shelves last Friday and has upped its testing requirements to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“We’re going to do the right thing and discontinue sale of the items,” Earnest said.

Brown said the lead paint problems that have led to millions of toys that were manufactured in China being recalled is a crisis that needs to be addressed. He said legislation is already pending that, if passed, will increase standards for overseas products and force companies to get insurance to cover themselves if they do sell tainted products.

Weidenhamer said home tests that parents can buy did not show lead when he tested the toys that ultimately were determined to have lead paint on them. There’s no way for parents to be 100 percent safe, he said, but he did have one piece of advice.

“Keep painted items away from children’s mouths,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.