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Another Voice: State legislation would help protect children from toxic toys

By Judith Frizlen

When I go food or clothes shopping, I read labels. I care about what goes into or onto my body. That is one of the ways I use my purchasing power to vote for healthy humans and environment.

I own an early childhood center, so I read labels while purchasing for my job as well. In this way, I know the ingredients in the children’s food and in the cleaning supplies we use in the environment. Compared to adults, children are more vulnerable. In relation to their body weight, they eat, drink and breathe more. They put their hands and anything in their hands into their mouths more often. In addition, at their stage of rapid development, children are more sensitive to the disruptive effects of environmental chemicals.

When I purchase toys and other products, however, there is no safety information to review because chemical manufacturers and distributors are not required to reveal what is in their products. The federal framework for regulating chemicals has not kept up with the expansion in chemical production. The EPA has required testing on only about 200 of the more than 82,000 chemicals that have entered the market since 1976. The resulting burden to verify safety has fallen onto the shoulders of responsible business owners.

Clean and Healthy New York engaged in a shopping and testing spree recently in which it found unsafe levels of dangerous chemicals and metals in children’s products. It found lead, arsenic, mercury, cobalt and antimony in everyday items for children bought in Erie County; these substances have been linked to cancer, heart damage, respiratory ailments or behavioral and development problems.

That’s why I buy from a New York State company that vouches for the safe ingredients in all its products, mainly large wooden toys and furniture. I am happy to support the company, but I need more than it produces. Purposefully, we make many of our toys: felted wool balls, hand-dyed silks and more. I also buy toys at craft fairs where I can meet the makers.

Other business owners and most parents do not have the time or expertise to research toys before purchasing. They need to be able to rely on quality control standards that protect purchasers and protect our children. That’s why I advocate for smart chemical reform. According to polls, there is a lot of agreement among consumers about the importance of public disclosure of potentially harmful chemicals.

When I see a young child pick up an item that we purchased consciously, I relax knowing that he or she is safe. Wouldn’t it be great if all New Yorkers could enjoy the same peace of mind because toxic chemicals were not allowed in children’s products in the first place?

That’s why I am suggesting our state elected officials pass the Child Safe Products Act this year.

Judith Frizlen owns Buffalo’s Rose Garden Early Childhood Center.