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Ann Arbor Group Finds Toxic Chemicals In Mardi Gras Beads

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By Matt Roush,

Dangerous levels of lead, other toxic metals and toxic flame retardants were found in most Mardi Gras beads tested by Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center.

“We were shocked at the level of halogenated flame retardants in these products,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s principal researcher on the project. “There’s no requirement to include them in there.”

Some of the chemicals found in testing the beads are cancer-causing agents, while others are neurotoxins. Where they came from was a mystery until Ecology Center researchers looked at them under an electron microscope at Hope College in Holland.

“When we split the beads apart and looked at them under a microscope, you can actually see chunks of recycled printed circuit board and electronic waste in these,” Gearhart said.

Almost all of the beads were made in China, where the handling of discarded electronics is a huge problem.

Old electronics are also a likely source of the lead and other toxic heavy metals found in many of the beads.

Gearhart said the toxic substances can rub off the beads onto the skin, and break down off the bead material over time. Read More