Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Got XRF'd Yesterday...the good, bad, and truly hideous

Rob Wilson, of Challenge & Fun, and, rented an XRF gun, and since his company is relatively close by, I took advantage. After a challenging 2 hour drive with my toddler in tow, I understand even more how truly challenging it is going to be to stay afloat after this law goes into effect. At any rate, I thought I would talk about the whole process of XRF testing.

I had both my current inventory with me, and lots of swatches of the fabrics that I have been using throughout the past year. I also had each and every trim, piping, rick rack, and embellishment that goes into and onto my clothing. Believe it or not, I had all of my buttons as well, and there is the rub. But more about that later...

Here is how it works. XRF, or x-ray fluorescence, is able to detect the type of material being tested, and also the heavy metal composition. Depending on how the user sets the parameters, one can tell how many parts per million (ppm) are in any given substance. You put the gun flat on the object, or use a small stand with a cover for smaller items like buttons, and pull the trigger. After about 30 seconds, it records the readings, and voila, pass or fail. It also gives the amounts, all the way down to less than 5 ppm.

All of my textiles and trims passed with flying colors, as expected. The manufacturer of my materials has told me as much, but it's good to know for sure. The buttons on the other hand were a different story.

The vintage buttons, understandably in some cases, failed in a big way. What was more surprising however was that none of the buttons I use are metal. They are all plastic, nylon, or acrylic. The problem seemed to stem from buttons that had any kind of shimmer, or a pearl-ized look. It seems the manufacturers of these buttons must be specifically adding lead to get a metallic look. The other interesting finding was that if one color in a style failed, then the other ones would too. The color of the button proved to be of no consequence, it was merely the presence of a metallic look that gave any prior indication of a failing grade.

The thing that was challenging to me was that not all the metallic ones failed, only a certain few. These are new buttons though, not vintage, and on first glance it is nearly impossible to tell which one might contain lead. So, my recommendation to others would be to make sure you are testing your buttons, and also to avoid shimmery styles. I obtain my buttons from a reputable distributor, but I did notice a disclaimer on their website for the first time last week. Yes, you guessed it, "not intended for use by children under 12". Big surprise...

So the good: all textiles passed, even vintage fabrics. The bad: A 5 hour round trip drive with a toddler, and 3 1/2 hours of testing...what drudgery! The truly hideous: I'm losing some styles of buttons I love. Alas, not worth the risk. Eventually, I'll post all the style numbers and manufacturers of the buttons that failed, so that you too can avoid these styles. If they end up sitting on the shelves long enough, maybe the button manufacturers will change their practices. Just maybe...


andrea said...

Thanks so much for all of your updates! Sorry about your beloved buttons but the rest is surely good news! Look forward to hearing more...

babycheeks said...

thanks for sharing your story! I've been thinking about this technology but don't know locally where to find it (I'm in MA)

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