In August of 2010, a lawsuit was filed by the office of Attorney General Jerry Brown of California claiming that unsafe levels of lead were being found in bounce houses. The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) in Oakland, California initiated the suit. The CEH found levels of lead in the vinyl up to 2.9% or 29,000 parts per million (PPM). The federal limit for lead in a children’s product is 90 PPM for painted surfaces or 300 PPM for non-painted surfaces.
Recently my company, Essco Safety Check, preformed X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) testing of vinyl samples of materials that bounce houses are made of, and like CEH, we found lead, however we also found fairly high levels of arsenic and antimony. The lead levels were found with a high of approximately 11,000 PPM but overall percentages of lead found were lower than that of antimony and arsenic. Lead was found to contain more than 500 PPM in 16.2% of the samples, however, 500 PPM of arsenic was found in 24.3% of the samples and 500 PPM of antimony was found in 86.5% of the samples.
Here are some general numbers of the samples we tested.
Antimony found with more than 1000 PPM in 86.5% of the samples tested
Arsenic found with more than 1000 PPM in 21.6% of the samples tested
Lead found with more than 1000 PPM in 8.1% of the samples tested
Antimony found with more than 5000 PPM in 35.1% of the samples tested
Arsenic found with more than 5000 PPM in 13.5% of the samples tested
Lead found with more than 5000 PPM in 2.7% of the samples tested
I’m not exactly sure why arsenic would be found in the vinyl materials of bounce houses, potentially as a stabilizer in Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) production, however, antimony is potentially used as a fire retardant.
The CPSC is currently attempting to decide what exactly is the definition of a children’s product, I’m not sure that a bounce home a children’s product. I’m not even sure that the CPSC knows this answer. In discussions with several people in the “know” about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), they are not sure if this is a child’s product.
However, in the vinyl materials that were tested, lead, arsenic and antimony were found. Now I want to stress that all testing done was with an XRF analyzer which tests for total content. Lead is the only element that has a total content standard within the CPSIA, antimony and arsenic (among other elements) have voluntary soluble standards according to ASTM F963. The results shown are NOT a soluble reading, but total content.
Now just because the samples we tested were found to contain lead, antimony and arsenic does not mean that all bounce houses have these elements. However, the material PVC is known for its ability to leach heavy metals. All the samples tested were made of PVC.
In producing PVC a lot of Chlorine (Cl) is used (some estimates say that 40% of the worlds chlorine is used to make PVC) and of course there is Hydrogen (H). If H & Cl combine, they form Hydrochloric Acid (HCl), to prevent this the PVC manufactures add stabilizers, sometimes they use heavy metals such as lead, or maybe in this case arsenic.
In a study that Essco Safety Check did with a few local laboratories in 2008 & 2009 lead was detected in PVC material and subjected to a variety of conditions of heat. Lead was found to accumulate on the surface and leach from the PVC material, the more heat, the more leaching. I wonder if this could be happening in these materials.
We know that exposure to lead can cause a variety of mental and physical conditions including; learning disabilities, behavioral problems, seizures, coma and even death.
Picture the beautiful summer evening at your towns 4th of July celebration, its 90 degrees and you’re having fun. Your children want to go play in the bounce houses, children love these activities. You say go play, have fun, don’t hurt yourself. Little did you know that the act of playing in these houses could be potentially harmful to your child, all because of what they are made of.
Knowing what is in your environment is important, especially to children and pregnant women.
Know what’s in your environment and mitigate harm!