They are the most common throws of the carnival season, and many kids love to play with them year-round, but how safe are Mardi Gras beads?
After reading previous studies showing alarming results from beads in New Orleans, FOX10 News Investigates set out to answer that question about the beads sold in the Port City.
Turns out, the Investigative Team found some Mardi Gras beads purchased this year in Mobile have levels of lead content that could be concerning to you.
With the carnival season in full swing, you'll want to keep a close eye on your children and make sure they don't put the beads in their mouths, as they can be poisonous.
Here's how we made that discovery:
FOX10 News Investigates hired a local laboratory, Pace Analytical, to test 20 different beads, purchased from two major throws stores in Mobile, for lead content.
The lab ground up the beads and tested the fragments through an acid digestion method, which looks to see how much lead would leach out of the beads.
Three of the 20 beads were found to have relatively high levels.
For example, the maximum amount of lead allowed in lipstick in 10 parts per million (ppm), which is a lower limit than what's allowed in lead paint, since lipstick is more likely to be ingested, and three of the strands tested were just over that limit.
A large blue strand had a level of 17.9 ppm, a large gold metallic strand had a lead level of 10.3 ppm, and a large silver metallic strand had a level of 23.4 ppm.
Those three strands of beads came in large packs.
So, FOX10 News Investigates sent another strand from each of those packs to a Michigan-based consumer safety organization known as the Ecocenter, because we wanted to get a second opinion.
The Ecocenter lab tested the surface of the beads, instead of grinding them up.
On the surface of the beads, much higher levels of lead were discovered.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission's (CPSC) standard for lead in household paint is 90 ppm, and its limit for lead in children's toys is 100 ppm.
When the paint on the surface of the beads was tested, researchers found the gold metallic strand had a lead level of 135 ppm, the silver metallic strand's level was at 95 ppm, and the blue strand was at 80 parts per million.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), children are most susceptible to lead's permanent, harmful effects, and the younger the child, the greater the risk.
The EPA also said lead exposure can cause learning problems, lower IQ, slowed growth, and hearing problems.
Lead isn't the only concern on the beads.
The Ecocenter's research director also found dangerously high levels of other toxins, including bromine, a chemical researchers say can cause birth defects and reproductive problems.
Researchers also found high levels of antimony.
According to the EPA, when antimony is digested, it can cause negative effects on your stomach and intestines.
The legal limit for antimony in toys is 60 ppm, and the amount discovered on the surface of the gold metallic beads was more than 6,000 ppm.
On the blue beads, more than 4,800 ppm of antimony was found, and on the silver beads, it was more than 3,600 ppm. If you'd like to see full copies of the testing results, click here.Experts stressed you shouldn't let your children chew or suck on Mardi Gras beads because it could have negative consequences.
"The hazardous chemicals we see in the beads are actually a cocktail of chemicals, some of them are endocrine disruptors, some of them impact learning behavior, like lead, some of them are flame retardants, which can be both endocrine disruptors and are reproductive toxins," explained Jeff Gearhart, Research Director for the Ecocenter.
Gearhart has been testing Mardi Gras beads periodically over the last several years and said this has been an ongoing problem.
"The beads that we tested from Mobile are very similar to the beads we previously tested and highlighted as problematic," said Gearhart. "We're seeing ubiquitous levels of lead, but also a mixture of other chemicals in these beads that are typical of what you'd see when you recycle and waste electronics."
That's an issue that worries some parents on the Gulf Coast.
"I'm mad, I'm past angry, that's crazy, you give them to your children, first thing they do is put them in their mouth,” said Lisa Rawlins.
Parents also said they're glad FOX10 News Investigates alerted them to the concern.
"I appreciate y'all letting people know because we've been here for a while and I never knew that they had lead in them or anything. I wouldn't have even thought anything like that,” said Mobile mother Priscilla Morris.
"I was clueless, so I'm glad I know now,” said Rawlins. “So yeah, I appreciate people like you... otherwise we wouldn't know."
Experts advised you can still enjoy the Mardi Gras season, and catch and wear all the beads you want, just make sure your kids aren't putting the beads in their mouths, and try to wash your hands after handling the beads.
While the beads we tested were purchased in Mobile, all of them had tags saying they were made in China.
FOX10 News reached out to local retailers for this story, but they had no comment.
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