ANN ARBOR (WWJ) — Fresh on the heels of a study that found high levels of toxic materials in Mardi Gras beads, Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center is out with a new study just in time for March Madness that finds that 71 percent of university-themed products sold at top retailers contain hazardous chemicals.

The study is part of ongoing research at, an ongoing project of the Ecology Center to search for harmful chemicals in consumer products.

Researchers found that products routinely exceed standards set by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, including 15 percent of products exceeding the standards for lead, and 16 of 18 products exceeding standards for chemicals called phthalates that are banned in children’s products due to health concerns. Also found were toxics like arsenic, bromine, chlorine, mercury and cadmium.

Over the last two months, the Ecology Center said, researchers tested 65 university-themed products for substances that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity, and cancer. Products tested included wallets, key chains, seat cushions, and sports jerseys purchased at major retailers including Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Walgreens, and Wal-Mart. The products tested represent 19 well-known universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Connecticut, Duke University, and Michigan State University.

“In college towns across America, March Madness brings with it a tremendous amount of excitement,” said Rebecca Meuninck, environmental health campaign director for the Ecology Center and “Many of the universities represented in our study pride themselves on their efforts to green their campuses, but there’s a disconnect when university-themed products contain harmful chemicals linked to diseases like certain cancers, thyroid disruption, infertility and learning disabilities.”

Highlights of Findings from’s University-Themed Product Study:

* Of the 18 products screened for phthalates, 16 tested positive for the presence of phthalate plasticizers banned by the CPSC in children’s products.
* Seventy-one percent (46 of 65) of the products contained at least one or more chemicals of concern, such as lead, mercury, phthalates, and toxic flame retardants.
* More than a third (25 of 65) of the products contained at least two or more chemicals of concern.

“Showing your team colors during March Madness shouldn’t be bad for your health, yet researchers have found that dangerous chemicals like arsenic, lead, phthalates, and toxic flame retardants are common in the products they tested,” said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign director for the nonprofit group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “Consumers don’t want to worry that a NCAA-themed product could carry toxic chemicals into their home. They’re counting on major retailers to leverage their position in the market to encourage the sale of safe products.”

Many of the substances found in these products have already been restricted or banned in other consumer products. Lead and phthalates have been restricted in children’s products by the CPSC but the Ecology Center says they are poorly regulated in all other products.

Full study results and detailed information about what consumers can do is available at


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