Toxins found in suitcase handles

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 June, 2012, 12:00am


The handles of 10 common suitcase brands contain potentially cancer-causing chemicals, with levels in four bags exceeding a leading safety standard, the Consumer Council warned yesterday.

Tests performed on 19 different bags by the consumer watchdog and International Consumer Research and Testing found that more than half had handles containing various polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), identified as probable carcinogens.

The compounds, which are commonly found in plastics, rubber and lubricating oil, are suspected to cause cancer if inhaled, ingested or held in prolonged contact with the skin.

The council used as its benchmark the German GS Mark certification scheme, which holds that PAHs should not exceed 10 milligrams per kg in consumer products.

Four suitcases, including two American Tourister models, the Westlake Spinner and the Tokyo Chic, were found to have handles containing more than the recommended amount of PAHs.

The side handle of the Tokyo Chic case had 17,960 milligrams per kg, nearly 1,800 times the limit, while Samsonite's Cubelite suitcase contained 61.7 milligram per kg, six times the limit. The Westlake Spinner and Delsey's Lite Gloss model were just slightly above the threshold.

Only the side handles on the models were found to contain PAHs, not their retractable trolley handles or the ones on top of the suitcases. There are no laws governing the levels of PAHs in Hong Kong or on the mainland.

'We are not saying you would develop cancer by holding the handle once,' said Connie Lau Yin-hing, the council's chief executive. 'It depends on the duration of the usage and the density of the probable carcinogen on the handle. However, if given a choice, people should opt for suitcases with lower levels of the harmful substance.'

American Tourister and Samsonite say they are replacing the handles as a result of the findings. Customers who bought a Tokyo Chic suitcase are being encouraged to ask to have the handle replaced.

Ramesh Tainwala, Samsonite International's regional president, said the company had sent samples to an independent lab, which determined its suitcases were safe to use.

'We are absolutely confident that consumers can continue to use our luggage without any safety or health concerns at all,' Tainwala said.

Meanwhile, another study by the council found a probable carcinogen, ethyl carbamate, in 34 brands of Asian alcoholic beverages, including the cooking wine Shaoxing. Two types of aged wines under the Gu Yue Long Shan brand as well as a Pagoda Brand aged Shaoxing wine showed higher levels of the chemical, at 0.2 to 0.26 milligrams per kg.

The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety has food industry guidelines on how to reduce the chemical's levels during storage and transport.