Toxic Chemicals Found in NYC Toys and Children’s Products

For Immediate Release
December 17, 2015
WE ACT for Environmental Justice, 212-961-1000 ext. 320

NEW YORK, NY — At the height of the holiday shopping season, researchers have discovered toxic chemicals such as mercury and arsenic hidden in a dozen popular children’s toys for sale in New York City. The dangerous chemicals are linked to cancers, cognitive impairments and hyperactivity in children.

The report, “A Call for Toxic-Free Children’s Products: New York City” was released today at a news conference on the steps of City Hall today by Clean and Healthy New York, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, the Center for Environmental Health, parents, and business representatives.

“A Call for Toxic-Free Children’s Products: New York City” reported on 12 children’s toys and products purchased from Jack’s World, Macy’s, Regine’s, Shopper’s World, Target, Toys”R”Us and several 99 cents stores in boroughs across New York City in June and September 2015. Researchers detected:

  • Arsenic in two products: shoes and a lunch box,
  • Antimony in five products: clothing, a necklace, an accessory, a purse and a doll,
  • Cadmium in two products: a pencil holder school supply and an accessory,
  • Cobalt in six products: jewelry and accessories,
  • Lead in four products: jewelry, accessories, and footwear.

All of the products contained multiple hazards. The Monster High Necklace contained arsenic, lead, antimony, and cobalt.

Decades of scientific research shows toxic chemicals are linked to health problems including cancer, hormone disruption and harm to the developing brain. Children are uniquely vulnerable because they eat, drink and breathe more, pound for pound, than adults, put their hands and objects in their mouths more often, and are undergoing developmental stages that are sensitive to disruption from environmental chemicals.

The report urges New York City lawmakers to implement policies to protect children from the chemicals found in children’s products and toys. State and federal legislation to remedy this is currently stalled. The bipartisan Child Safe Products Act passed the New York State Assembly in 2015 but its future is unclear. Localities have begun to take matters into their own hands, with similar legislation having passed in Albany County in 2014, followed in 2015 by Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland counties.

“Parents deserve nothing less than the full assurance that the toys they buy their children won’t do them harm. Unfortunately, this report confirms our deepest fears about toxic chemicals in toys. I stand with parents and advocates across this city who demand we make it clear that toxic chemicals do not belong in children’s toys,” said Council Member Mark Levine.

“No parent wants to find out that the clothes, jewelry or toys they give their children contain chemicals that could hurt them. Yet our testing confirms this reality. Companies are able to make children’s products without toxic chemicals – that means they have no excuse for not doing so, and the law should require it,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, Deputy Director for Clean and Healthy New York, who tested the products in the report. “That’s why we urge the New York City Council to join Albany, Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland counties in enacting laws to protect children.”

“This report is troubling but not surprising, for far too long, parents have had to be Mom, Dad, Santa and the scientist. As this year comes to a close, we urge the New York City Council to do what Albany, Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland County have already done. Pass a law that protects children from toxic chemicals,” said Cecil D. Corbin-Mark, Deputy Director at WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

“Infants and children are exquisitely sensitive to toxic chemicals. Research undertaken by our group at Mount Sinai and by others has shown that exposures to even very low doses of toxic chemicals during pregnancy and in early childhood can cause asthma, learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), growth retardation and reproductive problems in children. As a pediatrician who has worked for over forty years to protect children against hazardous chemicals in the environment and also as a parent and grandparent, I call upon the New York City Council to act without delay to protect our children – our most precious and vulnerable population – against toxic chemicals in consumer products,” said Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc, FAAP, Dean for Global Health, Arnhold Institute for Global Health, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Pediatrics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“Leading companies have demonstrated that it is both possible and profitable to produce toxic-free products, yet this report shows that chemicals most New Yorkers thought were banned years ago, like arsenic and lead, are still being used in some children’s products,” said Laura Ornstein, coordinator of the New York State Sustainable Business Council. “As a last line of defense, the local government has a duty to send the market a signal that exposing children to chemicals associated with health impacts such as cancer and learning and developmental disorders will no longer be tolerated.”

Recent reports suggest that Congress may soon vote on chemical safety legislation, but the groups at today’s event say that the bill doesn’t go far enough. “Congress is about to vote on a chemical reform bill that they have been working on for more than 5 years, but nothing in that bill would protect children from many dangerous chemicals in toys,” said Ansje Miller, Eastern States Director for CEH. “It’s shocking that so much time has been spent on a bill that doesn’t provide basic protections for our children’s health.”

The products were tested using an X-Ray Fluorescence Analyzer (“XRF Analyzer”), a device that can detect levels of chemicals on the surface of almost any object. The XRF is an accurate device used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to screen packaging, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to screen food, and many state and county health departments to screen for residential lead paint. In April, the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined that the High Definition (HD) XRF from XOS, X-Ray Optical Systems, used to test these items was comparable to lab testing for the chemicals covered in this report.

All products in the report were bought from stores in New York City, in July and September 2015. Only a tiny fraction of the children’s products for sale in New York City 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.


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