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BPA levels rise drastically after eating canned soup

For over 40 years, manufacturers have used the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) to line plastic food containers and metal food and beverage cans.  However, recent studies have indicated that BPA exposure may disrupt the endocrine system and cause a series of health problems.  In response, many companies have reformulated their products, proudly labeling reusable water bottles and food storage containers BPA-free.  But not all manufacturers have raced to remove BPA.  A recent study found that, after eating one can of soup per day for five days, BPA levels in test participants increased by over 1000%.

Further research is needed to fully determine the effects of BPA on humans.  But existing studies have found that BPA can negatively impact “the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children.”  Furthermore, Time Magazine reports that “[a] growing number of studies also link BPA exposure to changes in liver and heart function, and to detrimental effects on insulin levels. In a study involving a U.S. government health database, for example, British researchers reported that people with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were twice as likely to have heart disease or diabetes as those with lower levels.”

The Harvard doctoral student who conducted the canned soup study admitted that she was surprised by the results, noting that “o]ther studies have quantified the amount of BPA in canned food itself, so we were expecting a modest association. But this is really big.”  Moreover, although the study was limited to canned soup, the results are likely to apply to other canned foods and beverages.

For now, Health and Human Services is encouraging parents to limit infant exposure to BPA.  To further this goal, HHS has released a number of steps parents can take to reduce exposure.  The list can be viewed here.  HHS has stated that a reduction in exposure is most important for young children, because “their bodies are early in development and have immature systems for detoxifying chemicals.” Additional studies are being conducted to determine the effects of BPA in adults and older children.  Until more is known, HHS recommends that people in those age groups should “follow reasonable food preparation practices to reduce exposure to BPA.”  These practices include buying plastic products labeled BPA-free and choosing fresh foods over canned goods whenever possible.

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Chemicals in Johnson & Johnson baby products cause controversy

Johnson & Johnson has always promoted an image of its products being safe and gentle enough to use on babies.  For decades, parents have reached for the company’s baby care products, trusting that the ingredients within them were safe and non-toxic.  Just two months ago, the company even ranked first in a Forbes survey of the most trusted brands in America.  But this image took a major hit last month,  when a report revealed that the famous baby shampoo continues to use two known carcinogens:  1,4-dioxane, a chemical byproduct, and quaternium-15, a preservative that releases formaldehyde.

Over two years ago, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics issued a report called No More Toxic Tub.  The report revealed that a number of baby products, including Johnson & Johnson shampoo, contained carcinogens.  The advocacy group asked Johnson & Johnson to reformulate its products and remove the harmful ingredients.  The company listened–or so the Campaign thought.   In fact, when the Campaign re-analyzed the labels of Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo sold in 13 different countries, in found that the carcinogens were still being used in about half of the formulations, including the shampoo sold in America.  Quaternium-15 was found in products sold in the United States, Canada, China, Indonesia, and Australia.  Meanwhile, products sold in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Japan, contained non-formaldehyde preservatives.

So why the double standard? As Campaign for Safe Cosmetics director Lisa Arch stated, “Clearly there is no need for Johnson & Johnson to continue to expose American, Canadian, and other babies to formaldehyde when it is already using alternatives in other markets. ”  The company is obviously capable of producing safe alternatives, but deliberately chose to make no changes to the products  in some of its biggest markets.   It’s worth noting that, after the release of the first report, Johnson & Johnson did introduce a “natural” line of baby products.  However, these cost about twice as much as the original products–a price difference that many consumers may not be able to afford.

Luckily, it seems the Campaign’s advocacy has been effective.  As Forbes recently reported,

On November 16th, Johnson & Johnson announced that it would remove quaternium-15 and other formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from all of its baby products worldwide within two years, and reduce 1,4 dioxane in all of its baby products to less than 4 parts per million (ppm).  Long term, the company indicated it will replace the chemical process, called ethoxylation, that results in 1,4 dioxane contamination. Johnson & Johnson also announced that it has removed phthalates from all of its baby products worldwide. The announcement does not cover the company’s non-baby products (e.g. products in the Neutrogena and Aveeno lines).

It remains to be seen when the reformulated products will actually be available.  Furthermore, consumers continue to be misled by products that claim to be safe, gentle, and natural.  Still, there are ways for consumers to learn what harmful chemicals are used in everyday personal care products.  The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is an easy-to-use search tool that contains information on over 69,000 products.   Consumers can use the tool to discover health concerns associated with each product.


10 toys to avoid this holiday season

As holiday shopping continues, consumer advocacy group WATCH (World Against Toys Causing Harm) has released its annual list of the 10 worst toys for children. Among the list are “toy” weapons, including a Power Rangers “Samurai Mega Blade and “Zing Toys Z-Curve Bow.”  The samurai blade extends a full two feet and includes the following warning:  “Do not: (1) aim toy at anyone, (2) hit anyone with toy, (3) poke anyone with toy, (4) swing toy at anyone…”  Essentially, do none of the things children expect to do with a toy sword.  The age recommendation is four years and older; it’s hard to imagine children of any age adhering to these instructions.  WATCH warns that the blade can cause “serious facial or other impact injuries.”

The “Z-Curve Bow” is a foam bow and arrow set that claims to be able to fly over 125 feet.  The label warns kids to alert people close to a target before firing, but it’s doubtful that children would actually trek 125 feet to see who may be near a target.  WATCH also took issue with a warning that tells users to not pull arrows back at more than half strength–an instruction that children may not even understand, let alone comply with.

Absurd instructions seemed to be a theme among the toys.   A “Fold & Go Trampoline” sternly warns consumers that the product should only be used for “controlled bouncing.”   The portable trampoline is recommended for children ages three and up; as one reporter put it, “what segment of the population is better at controlled bouncing than 3-year-olds?”

Also making the list was a “Sword Fighting Jack Sparrow” figurine complete with a rigid, four inch plastic sword.  WATCH warned that the sword could cause eye and other impact injuries.  Meanwhile, toy school buses with removable tires pose a choking hazard, and a wooden duck intended for one year olds contains a 33 inch cord that far exceeds the industry’s 12 inch standard limit.

The Toy Industry Association dismissed the list, claiming that such reports “needlessly frighten parents.”  But toy injuries are nothing to scoff at–the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that toy injuries sent 250,000 children to ERs in 2009 alone.

To see the full list of toys, visit WATCH’s website.

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Exploding airbags? Honda issues major recall.

Honda has announced that 876,000 of its cars may contain airbags that could explode if deployed.  In a notice posted on its website, the company stated that “affected drivers’ airbag inflators may deploy with too much pressure, which can cause the inflator casing to rupture and could result in injury or fatality.” The airbags have caused at least 20 accidents, including two deaths.

The recall includes 273,000 2001-2003 Acura and Honda vehicles.  However, the company admitted that it does not have the information to determine which other vehicles may have received the defective parts.  Thus, “Honda will inspect an additional approximately 603,000 vehicles and replace those parts as necessary.”  Those 603,000 vehicles include certain 2001 and 2002 Accord, 2001 to 2003 Civic, 2001 to 2003 Odyssey, 2002 and 2003 CR-V, 2003 Pilot, 2002 and 2003 Acura 3.2 TL and 2003 Acura 3.2 CL models.

The recall expands on earlier efforts to fix a problem that has plagued the company since 2008.  Worldwide, approximately 2 million vehicles have been included in the recalls.

Honda will begin notifying affected customers later this month.  Customers can go also go online to determine if their vehicle is included in the recall.   If you drive a Honda, visit or call (800) 999-1009; if you drive an Acura, visit or call (800) 382-2238. Be sure to have your car’s VIN.


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Arsenic levels in bottled juice raise alarm

A study has revealed dangerous amounts of cancer-causing arsenic in 10% of bottled juices.  According to testing performed by Consumer Reports, arsenic levels in 88 apple and grape juice samples exceeded FDA limits for arsenic in drinking water.  (The FDA does not currently define limits for arsenic in juices.)  Furthermore, the magazine reports that 25 percent of juices also had lead levels higher than the FDA’s bottled water limit of 5 parts per billion (ppb).

FDA standards for arsenic in drinking water are set at ppb.  The levels in the juices surpassed 10 ppb.  Alarmingly, most of the arsenic detected was inorganic–a known human carcinogen.  The samples came from popular juice brands, including Welch’s, Minute Maid, and Mott’s.

As a result, the Consumers Union advocacy group (an affiliate of Consumer Reports) is urging the FDA to set standards of 3 ppb for arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice.  The FDA responded that it would conduct additional testing.  The agency later reported that, out of 160 samples tested, eight contained a concerning amount of arsenic.

According to Good Morning America,

Consumer Reports also analyzed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s data on arsenic in the urine of men and women who were willing to report their food and drink consumption for 24 hours prior. Analysis showed that people who reported drinking apple or grape juice had, on average, about 20 percent higher levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not.

A senior scientist with Consumer Reports noted that children may be at a particularly high risk of exposure to arsenic, due to ” their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume.”  The magazine is recommending that infants under six months of age consume no juice at all, and that children six and younger drink no more than four to six ounces of juice per day.

For more information on the Consumer Reports and FDA studies, visit

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Perfect Fitness agrees to $425,000 penalty for failing to report defects

Perfect Fitness, a U.S. manufacturer of exercise equipment, has agreed to pay $425,000 in civil penalties to settle charges that it withheld information about its Perfect Pullup exercise handles breaking.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) alleged that, in June 2008, Perfect Fitness concluded that its exercise handles were defective.  The company had retested the product after receiving a complaint about it and noticing a high number of returns.  In July 2008, the product was redesigned to correct the defect.

Almost two years later, in March 2010, Perfect Fitness posted a notice on its website telling users that the old handles were “inferior” and that they could receive free replacement handles.  CPSC alleges that, by the time Perfect Fitness posted this notice, they were aware of 23 injuries involving the handles.  Perfect Fitness did not report the defect to CPSC until December 2010.  By that time, complaints about the product had doubled and replacement requests topped 2,000.  A formal recall was issued in February 2011.

According to federal law, a company must immediately report a  known or suspected product defect to CPSC.  The $425,000 penalty will resolve the allegations against Perfect Fitness.  In agreeing to pay the penalty, Perfect Fitness denies knowingly violating the law.


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Recent product recalls

Recent recalls include Martha Stewart enamel cast-iron casseroles, Target step stools, Office Depot desk chairs, and a children’s Scoot ‘n Zoom riding toy.

  • The Martha Stewart enamel cast-iron casseroles were sold at Macy’s between June 2007 and June 2011.  According to Consumer Reports, the enamel coating “can crack or break during use, fly off, and possibly cut or burn” the user.  Owners may bring the casserole to Macy’s for a refund or visit Macy’ for more information.
  • Target has recalled its wooden step stools with built-in storage.  The stools can break or collapse during use.  The company has received almost thirty reports of stools breaking–some involving injuries as severe as a fractured hip and pelvis.  If you own one of these step stools, contact Target at 800-440-0680 or visit for further details.
  • Office Depot has recalled 34,000 Realspace PRO 300 Series Custom Fit desk chairs.  Te chairs were sold at Office Depot from May 2009 through June 2011.  The user’s finger can get caught in the chair’s tilt mechanism.  Office Depot is offering a free repair kit that covers the tilt mechanism. Call the company’s recall hotline at 855-259-5093 for details.
  • Radio Flyer has recalled 165,000 of its children’s Scoot ‘n Zoo riding toys.  The toys can tip over, causing the child to fall off.  The company has received six reports of injuries, including lost teeth and cuts.  The toys were sold from August 2010 to August 2011.  Call Radio Flyer at 800-621-7613 or go to for more information.




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Child deaths from falling TVs are all too common. What can we do?

In the past two weeks, two Chicago children were killed by falling televisions.  While playing on November 8, three year old Shaniya Singleton ran into a TV on a low stand.  The 27-inch TV fell on the child, killing her.  On October 30, six year old Karl Clermont died after a 36-inch television fell on him in his home.  Both deaths were investigated as accidental.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that, from 2000 to 2010, 169 children aged eight or younger were killed by falling TVs.  Furthermore, 19,200 people (adults and children included) were treated at emergency rooms for injuries from falling TVs.  Small children are particularly vulnerable to serious injury and death from TV tip-overs.

These injuries can occur in several ways.  Children may climb the furniture supporting a TV, causing the TV and furniture to tip over.  TVs mounted to walls, such as thinner flat-panel TVs, can crash down.  TVs with poor weight distribution can tip over on their own when placed on unsturdy furniture.

There are a number of steps parents can take to reduce the risk of injury from falling TVs.  CPSC has made several recommendations:

  • Push TVs as far back as they can go on their stands.
  • Check the stand or underlying furniture to ensure its stability.  Don’t place TVs on flimsy shelves.
  • TV stands should be low, wide, and sturdy.
  • Secure TVs and supporting furniture with an anchor.  The anchor should attach to a wall.  Anchor straps can be purchased online and in some hardware stores.
  • Do not keep items, such as toys or remotes, on top of the TV.  Children may be tempted to climb furniture to retrieve something from atop a television.
  • Store old, out-of-use TVs in safe locations.

Most importantly, parents should never take for granted a piece of furniture’s stability.  Lack of awareness on tip-over risks creates a serious hidden danger in the home.  Because the issue isn’t as publicized as other household dangers, parents may not know to include these steps when childproofing their homes.  Fortunately, taking these simple precautions can reduce the risk of injury to children and adults alike.

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Toyota issues major recall due to steering issue

Toyota has recalled 550,000 vehicles due to an engine issue that could interfere with steering.  Affected models include the 2004 Avalon;  2004-2004 Camry, Highlander, Sienna, and Solara; 2006 Highlander HV; 2004-2005 Lexus ES 350 and RX 330; and 2006 RX 400h hybrid.

The issue affects the cars’ V6 engines.  A crankshaft pulley on the engine may cause power steering to become detached.  The company stated that it is not aware of any accidents or injuries associated with the problem.

Toyota will begin notifying owners in January 2012; however, to be safe, drivers of these models should contact their local dealers as soon as possible.  The dealers will replace the pulley for free.

To read frequently asked questions about this recall, visit Toyota’s website.


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Table saw safety feature may soon be mandatory

Between 2007 and 2008, almost 80,000 people sought emergency care for table saw injuries ranging from deep cuts to amputations.* The cost of these injuries totals $2.36 billion per year. According to a commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), table saw injury victims face “long, painful recoveries, as well as significant financial hardship and employment challenges.”

However, since 2003, technology has existed that could lessen or entirely prevent these often traumatic injuries. SawStop, a small Oregon company, invented a system that detects when a person makes contact with a spinning table saw blade. On a normal table saw, the blade keeps spinning and can cut, break, or amputate the finger or thumb. On a SawStop product, the blade stops within milliseconds, reducing the injury to a minor nick.

Rather than adopt the new technology, however, the power-tool industry rejected it. In 2007, Inc. Magazine’s Melba Newsome reported that the industry may be avoiding the technology because of fear of increased product liability litigation.

In most cases, when people sue power-tool manufacturers because they’ve lost a finger or hand in an accident, they’re unsuccessful — because it’s tough to prove that the manufacturer did anything wrong. Add SawStop to the mix, however, and the picture changes. Suddenly, the industry is promising an injury-proof saw. What if someone got hurt? “The manufacturer would be at a deeper risk and more vulnerable because it had made a promise of what the technology could do,” says Jim O’Reilley, a product-liability expert at the University of Cincinnati. “Companies are going to be reluctant to expose themselves to that higher risk.”

But the industry may not be able to ignore SawStop for much longer. On October 5, 2011, the CPSC unanimously approved its staff recommendation to publish an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). Commissioner Robert S. Adler noted that this is “the first step on the road to a possible mandatory performance standard” and could lead to a a change in CPSC’s table saw safety standards. If a rule is eventually adopted, table saw manufacturers would have no choice but to include flesh-sensing technology in their products.

The ANPR provides the public with 60 days to weigh in on the proposed changes. To share your comments with the Commission, visit

*The figure comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

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