2018-10-30 09:41:05

With Halloween fast approaching, China’s e-commerce sites are chock-full of ghoulish get-ups. But this week, Beijing’s education authority warned of festive masks found to contain harmful toxins.

In a post Monday on its public account on social app WeChat, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission reported that children are being hospitalized with allergic reactions on and around their heads after donning masks for Halloween-themed events. It did not say how many children have been affected.

Liang Zhiling bought her son a green vampire mask for his kindergarten’s Halloween activities last weekend. “He wanted to look scary,” the 35-year-old told Sixth Tone. But when Liang tried the mask on herself, she felt that the fit wasn’t right and had a hard time breathing because there was no opening at the mouth. But the impractical design was the least of her worries. “The most terrible thing was that the mask had an acrid smell — it gave me a headache,” she said.

Upon closer inspection, Liang realized that mask had no visible trademark information, no description of what it was made from, and no guidelines for safe use — let alone the “CCC” logo of the China Compulsory Product Certification, the quality control stamp of approval of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine.

When a reporter for a TV station in Guangzhou sent four masks to be tested by Vkan Certification & Testing Co. Ltd. — a state-certified testing institute also based in the southern Chinese city — Vkan discovered that the concentration of phthalates in the masks “shockingly exceeded” the national standard by a factor of 30. “If ingested by minors, this will cause damage to the liver and kidneys, and it could potentially lead to early-onset puberty,” Vkan’s deputy director, Yao Huamin, said in a video posted by Beijing’s education commission.

According to Yao, exposure to phthalates can also be harmful to adults, reducing fertility in men and raising the risk of breast cancer in women. “If a woman is exposed to or ingests [such chemicals] during pregnancy, it can cause her baby to be born with defects or illnesses,” he added.

Liang purchased her son’s mask from a vendor on Taobao, an Alibaba-owned online marketplace. When Sixth Tone visited the vendor’s page on Tuesday, nearly 18,000 masks, priced at just a few dollars each, had already been sold — despite hundreds of scathing reviews from dissatisfied customers. “It hurts my face and smells strongly of plastic,” complained one buyer. The vendor had not responded to Sixth Tone’s request for comment by time of publication.

In the end, Liang and her 5-year-old son crafted a Superman costume together. “I told him Halloween doesn’t have to be scary,” she said. “It can be more about being creative and having fun.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A boy puts on a skeleton mask during a Halloween party in Kunming, Yunnan province, Oct. 28, 2017. Liu Ranyang/CNS/VCG)