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Report Finds Toxic Toys In Albany County

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Black Friday is just around the corner, but parents are being urged to take care when buying toys this year. Several being sold in Albany County contain toxic chemicals that pose health risks to children, according a new survey.  Researchers found a dozen toys on store shelves containing lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and more – toxic chemicals that have been linked to cancers, cognitive impairments and hyperactivity.

The report entitled “Toxic Toys in Albany County” was presented in downtown Albany Monday 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.

Researchers examining the playthings detected nefarious substances including arsenic, cadmium, cobalt and lead.  One product, a fairy bracelet charm, was composed of 25 percent cadmium.

Bobbie Chase Wilding, deputy director for Clean and Healthy New York, disclosed that just a tiny fraction of the children’s products for sale in Albany County were tested, and the report’s author said that it was not intended to be a comprehensive report on the safety of any product or brand.     "I could have spent all year testing products and I know I would have found many more. It's a challenge because parents can't tell when they look at items on the store shelves, which are safe and which are toxic. “

Christopher Goeken, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations with the New York League of Conservation Voters, says there is no avoiding toxic chemicals in toys on store shelves.    "There's no effective mechanism, there's no effective regulation to deal with it. Parents don't know that. When you shop you think, 'Oh, the products here have been tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission or whatever,' but the truth is they haven't. So across the board we found toxic chemicals in children's products not only at lower end stores like a Job Lot, but also at WalMart, also at Target, so you really can't shop your way out of the problem."

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
This handheld device is used to test toys for dangerous substances.

A bill is before the Albany County Legislature, Local Law J, the Toxic Free Toys Act, to be the subject of a public hearing next Tuesday.

But how would such a law be enforced?  Again, Bobbie Chase Wilding:    "If the DOH takes a device like the one I used to test for things and goes into stores, they can identify whether or not there are products that failed the law, and take action accordingly."

Dave Lucas:  "So who's responsible?  Would it be the store, would it be their supplier, would it be the distributor?"

Bobbie Chase Wilding:   "Who's on the hook? It's ultimately gonna be the retailer, because they're the ones that are operating a business here in Albany County. The law basically says they would be fined if they're knowingly selling these items, so if its brought to their attention, its something they had no information about, they're not going to be penalized. The point is to keep these off store shelves, it's not to hurt local businesses."

In Congress, legislation to overhaul the 35-year old Toxic Substances Control Act has been stalled for 10 years.  Meanwhile, more and more states are passing laws to address toxic threats in response to the failure of the federal law regulating chemicals. New York is not one of them.

Click here to download the complete “Toxic Toys in Albany County” report.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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