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Coalition works to push for state laws restricting chemicals in toys

Ellen Abbott
Some of the toys the group Clean and Healthy New York found in Onondaga County they say have high levels of toxic chemicals.

Toxic chemicals lurk in some of the popular children’s toys purchased in stores in Onondaga County, according to a report released this week by the group Clean and Healthy New York. The group hopes the study will force New York state lawmakers to keep hazards like this out of the state.

Bobbi Chase Wilding, deputy director for Clean and Healthy New York, points an X-Ray Floresance Analyzer at a children’s xylophone, purchased at a local dollar store.  

“We pick it up and look, and you can see here that after all the testing is done, lead came in at 342 parts per million,” said Wilding. “This currently violates federal law.”

The analyzer also turned up levels of mercury which don’t violate federal law, but still may have an impact on the children exposed to it. Syracuse-area nurse Renee Jenkins Havener says there are connections between these chemicals and developmental delays in children.

Credit Bobbi Chase Wilding, deputy director of the group Clean and Healthy New York tested toys for reporters Monday. / Ellen Abbott
Ellen Abbott

"When you’ve got lead, cadmium, mercury -- all these other things kids are exposed to -- and when you’ve got a child who’s suddenly no longer able to speak, or they’re not making physical contact, they're not reaching developmental milestones, we know that’s from chemical exposure,” said Havener.

These chemicals are also suspected in the development of cancer among young children.

But that’s not all. Another unlikely group is joining the cause in trying to get toxic levels of chemicals out of toys – firefighters. Mike Valenti, from the Syracuse Fire Department, says fumes from these toys and other household items also linger in the bodies of firefighters, who have one of the highest rates of cancer of any profession.

“Fires of old days, when it was wood and cotton, weren’t affecting us like this,” he said. “Now every fire we go into, it builds up in our system more and more.”

Valentini says there have been three cancer deaths locally in the last year of firefighters in their 50s.  

The groups are joining forces to ask state lawmakers to pass the bipartisan Child Safe Products Act, which would provide a framework to identify, prioritize, locate and eliminate toxic chemicals in children’s products. The legislation has been stalled in the state Senate. The organization is also asking local governments to take a stand on the issue.

Some of the other toys and children’s items in the report identified as having high chemical levels include things like hair clips, bracelets, clothing and toy cars.   

She says the bill would allow the state to ban wide range of toxins..

“There’s more than a thousand chemicals that can cause health problems out there that we know are in consumer products,” said Wilding. “If we come back and deal with them one at a time, and it takes five years to get each one passed, I mean, you do the math.”  

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.