Suffolk closeup: Keeping kids safe


The Suffolk County Legislature has done again what it’s known for — passing ground-breaking legislation. This time it’s the “Toxic Free Toys Act.”

Finally people are waking up to the outrage of toys containing poisons sold in Suffolk and all over the United States. It’s equally outrageous that the federal government has been doing little about this. As for the toy industry, they simply have no shame. Fred Locker, counsel for the Safe to Play Coalition, representing toy manufacturers, told the Suffolk Legislature on June 2: “The question I have to ask is ‘why?’ Why enact a law that is unnecessary?”

Later that day, all 18 legislators, members of the Democratic, Republican, Independence and Working Families parties, voted for children’s safety. This included Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) who represents Shelter Island. The measure is slated to be signed by County Executive Steve Bellone next week.

Its author is Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). It follows a report last December, “Toxic Toys on Long Island,” prepared by Clean and Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters Educational Fund.

“Children’s products containing toxic chemicals are for sale on Long Island,” the report opens. “These chemicals are dangerous, unnecessary and pose health risks like cancer.” Investigators looked for the presence of some of the most hazardous chemicals in products intended to be used by children on a daily basis and found plenty to be concerned about.

A variety of stores were visited, including major outlets such as Walmart and Target that were selling toys and other children’s products.

A “handheld device,” an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, was used. It can detect and measure toxic substances in parts per million. Found in dolls, jewelry, jewelry-making kits, toy cars and other items were poisonous substances including arsenic, antimony, cadmium, cobalt, lead and mercury.

“Current regulations are inadequate to protect our children, our families, our communities and the environment,” the investigative report stated. Various federal laws such as the Toxic Substances Control Act “have allowed for very limited regulation of chemicals.”

So where the U.S. government has failed to go, Ms. Hahn went. The report, said Ms. Hahn, reflects how federal laws “do not fully protect children from the dangerous toxins found in many toys.” She noted how the chemicals found in the investigation resulting in the “Toxic Toys on Long Island” report “have been linked to cancer, cognitive impairments, hyperactive and genetic disorders in children.

It makes no sense to me as chair of the legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee to promote policies that reduce these toxins in our drinking water only to have them reintroduced to our residents at the toy store checkout counter.”

The bill authored by Ms. Hahn, the mother of an eight-year-old girl, sets up a system in which the county’s Department of Health Services will conduct checks on at least 10 retailers per quarter that sell children’s products. An x-ray fluorescence analyzer will be used onsite at the retailers to determine whether the chemicals cited in the “investigative report are present at unsafe levels.

“The department shall inform the retailer of products screened that exceed the toxic content levels in this law,” the legislation states. A store continuing to offer for sale a children’s product found by the department to violate the statute will be issued a notice of violation. A fine of $500 is owed for the first violation and after that $1,000 per violation.

Kathleen Curtis, executive director of Clean and Healthy New York, said after the bill’s passage: “In the absence of a strong state or federal law to regulate toxic chemicals in children’s products, it is both laudable and appropriate for Suffolk County to take action to protect its most precious and vulnerable citizens.

Hopefully, this action will create a tipping point for New York State to follow suit. Otherwise, more localities will step up and follow Suffolk’s lead.”

Suffolk County has multiple times enacted first-in-the-state and first-in-the-nation laws, some subsequently adopted by New York State and federal governments.

This new trailblazing county law should be the basis for state and federal statutes.

If the toy manufacturers’ lobby is so powerful that this cannot be done — that’s a governmental crime. But at least Suffolk County is doing the completely right thing.