Germany’s ‘Consumer Reports’ wallops brands, reveals alleged harmful chemicals in equipment

Forget the usual debate over equipment rankings, the brouhaha in Germany at the ispo show was over tests by its country’s version of Consumer Reports’ showing alleged harmful chemicals in handgrips. SNEWS reads the report to find out more.
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Only days before one of the largest industry gatherings in Europe at the ispo show, Germany’s version of the U.S.’s Consumer Reports stung top brands with an article that revealed alleged unsafe concentrations of chemicals in equipment handgrips.

The testing company, called “Stiftung Warentest” (www.test.de), is much like Consumer Reports in its methods of testing and its lack of advertising to try to maintain neutrality.

As a part of its ratings of equipment released the week before the start of the ispo trade show in Munich, Germany, on Feb. 6, 2011, Stiftung Warentest left the industry professionals and executives less abuzz about how their equipment ranked – normally the debate, just as in the United States – as about a short section in the report about harmful chemicals. The group claimed many of the top brands’ treadmill handgrips or handweight grips contained higher-than-allowed concentrations of phthalate and/or something called “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”

In an article about the results in Germany’s SAZ trade paper at the show, manufacturer and retail executives found themselves coming together, debating the results and seeing eye-to-each with each other. Most pointed out that the equipment tested was old and not in their lines anymore, had been changed, or had been tested and certified as safe by themselves by a certification group called TUV. Plus, the largest point of contention was that the group had used government standards for safety for children’s toys, which they claimed were not applicable to handgrips in adult exercise equipment.

“The point is, this harms the entire industry,” Ulfert Boehme, managing director of Johnson Health Tech Germany, told SNEWS®. “It just makes the consumers worry needlessly.”

Boehme also noted that its Horizon Paragon 408 that was allegedly tested was not available until November 2010; yet, the testing group said it had tested products in summer 2010.

Kettler’s Hans-Hermann Deters told SAZ that the model that was tested did not have its final production of handgrips and that all of its current models have tested as not having such chemical components.

The two substances are said potentially to cause cancer or be toxic to reproduction. It was claimed that sweat could allow the chemicals to be absorbed through the skin and therefore enter the body.

Manufacturers also noted that with treadmill handgrips users are not intended to hold on during a run or workout and, if they do, should not be holding for very long. Most definitely, Boehme told us, consumers would not be putting them in their mouths, as kids might with their toys.

Despite the headlines of harmful chemicals, Stiftung Warentest in a small note did note that consumers would not normaly be touching the handgrips for very long, which is “not even possible by jogging,” the company wrote in its German report.

In the end, in the treadmill ratings, none of the brands ended up with “good” or “excellent” ratings, due to the above issue; satisfactory ratings were given to Horizon, Kettler, Christopeit and Strengthmaster. Among ellipticals, ratings of “good” were given to Finnlo, Kettler, Christopeit and Life Balance.

To find the Stiftung Warentest report, albeit in German and for a fee, click here.

--Therese Iknoian

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