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Capital Region News

Public Hearing Scheduled For Toxic Toy Bill

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cleanhealthyny.org
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A growing national awareness of dangerous, or so-called "toxic," toys on store shelves has sparked debate over how to protect children from products containing harmful substances.  The spotlight is shining on New York State, as local governments try to deal with the issue.

The Toxic Toy Act was passed by the Albany County Legislature on December 8th.   Christopher Goeken, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations with the New York League of Conservation Voters, says the biggest problem confronting those shopping for children's products is the inability to determine the safety of any given item.    "In recent testing we did, in the same box of Hot Wheel cars, for example, one car would be fine and the one right next to it wasn't. In other words, one contained toxic heavy metals and one didn't.  So there's very little for parents, grandparents, gift-givers to really go on when they're looking at a product in the store, and that's why it's so important that we take this up to the retailer and the manufacturing level and get them to get the toxic chemicals out of children's products in the first place. And that way parents can shop safely and not worry about it."

Finding it challenging to get the attention of toymakers, toy safety advocates are taking the legal route.  Local Law J, prohibiting the sale of children's toys and clothes containing seven toxic chemicals—six of them heavy metals—came on the heels of a report issued in mid-November entitled “Toxic Toys in Albany County,” presented by Clean and Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

The group purchased and tested toys sold locally in October and November, including highly popular brands such as Lego and Hot Wheels, finding 12 different products laden with toxins. There was even a "Breast Cancer Awareness Charm Bracelet" that tested positive for the carcinogen cobalt and the toxic irritant arsenic.

Bobbie Chase Wilding, deputy director for Clean and Healthy New York, believes once Albany County Executive Dan McCoy signs Local Law J, the county health department will be able to launch an in-store accountability and enforcement initiative. "The chemicals that are in the ban can be enforced pretty easily. I believe that just like when Albany County passed a ban on BPA in baby bottles and Sippy Cups, they stopped showing up on store shelves, the same thing is going to happen with heavy metals in children's products."

The problem is, any store selling toys could unknowingly carry brand-name items containing banned substances. And the county health department is already knee-deep in enforcing other laws, including hotel, restaurant and daycare center inspections.

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Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says his office reviewed the legislation and decided to set up a public hearing.   "This has been up in the state Senate and Assembly for the last couple of years, and they're vettin' it because it does have an impact. First and foremost we have to protect our children. That's what we're here for, but we have to look at how much it's gonna cost us to implement this.  So I have to weigh it out, we don't have the staff, we do not have the equipment to do this, and what's the liability? I reach out to the state on this on the liability that it may have on our county, because God forbid if we don't catch something, we could end up being sued in the future over stuff like this, so we have to weigh everything out. Though I think it's an excellent idea, we just have to look at the legal ramifications and the financial impact it has on the county."

Critics of Local Law J side with McCoy, they say it goes too far and puts too much of a financial burden on the County:  In Congress, legislation to overhaul the 35-year old Toxic Substances Control Act has been stalled for 10 years. Advocates like Bobbie Chase Wilding say the lack of federal action underscores the need for local-level involvement.   "It also is gonna put more pressure on New York State to act. As we know, the New York State Senate had the vote slast year to pass the Child Safe Products Act. Obviously seeing a groundswell of action at County level demonstrates this is what New Yorkers want and will hopefully prompt the state to take action."

Wilding and her group also visited stores including Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Target, Party City and Walmart in Westchester County during November and December, issuing a report similar to the one released in Albany. Some retailers in both counties issued statements following those reports assuring the public they scrutinize the products on their shelves and would never intentionally offer anything harmful for retail sale.

Albany County will conduct its public hearing on Tuesday, January 6th at 6pm in the Cahill Room at the County Office Building.

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