Your city • inside and out

Toxic Toyland

In Urban Affairs on February 22, 2009 at 3:13 pm

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At Metro, we like to think of ourselves as a family-friendly company. Several members of our small staff have kids, and we keep a desk drawer full of toys at the office for the occasional child visitor. Or rather, we did keep a drawer full of toys—now we’re rethinking our progressive office policy after a random sample of toys brought from home (including a number of the barnyard animals pictured above) tested positive for toxic levels of lead and cadmium during a free screening last week at St. Luke’s Extended Care center. Sponsored by the Autism Society of Spokane, the test was administered by a visiting member of the Washington Toxics Coalition wielding a $30,000 phaser-like device which he pointed at a variety of toys brought in by several concerned parents. In fact, the only Metro-supplied items that didn’t test positive for dangerously high levels of toxic chemicals included a Disney “Cinderella” camera and a handmade nylon sun hat purchased last winter from a beach vendor in Cabo.

Childhood exposure to lead and cadmium has been linked to a variety of adverse health effects, including developmental delays and certain forms of cancer. Last year Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 in response to a wave of lead-tainted toy recalls involving products coming primarily from China. The law, which went into effect earlier this month, is aimed at ridding children’s products of lead and some forms of phthalates, which are found in PVC plastic. While many view the law as a step in the right direction, absent industry-wide testing, toy retailers are left wondering how to determine which products are safe. They also face stiff fines for selling toys that don’t meet the new standards. Enforcement of the law will likely fall on states’ attorneys-general and independent testing from the same consumer protection watchdogs who identified widespread problems with lead in the first place. In the meantime, parents can’t be sure that children’s products on the shelves comply with the new safety standards, though they can probably expect a flurry of new recalls in the near future as independent and state-level tests turn up products that violate the ban.

Even before the law was passed last year, The Lands Council has been working to protect the health of Spokane families affected by lead exposure through a two-year EPA grant. After identifying local neighborhoods thought to be high-risk for childhood lead poisoning, they started knocking on doors, passing out information about childhood lead poisoning to families, helping them access free home lead testing programs through SNAP and the City of Spokane, and advertising upcoming blood lead testing events. To date, the effort has screened 475 kids and found 28 with elevated blood lead levels and two with blood lead poisoning.

The next free lead screening is March 18 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook. The test takes about 10 minutes per child. Kids walk away with a lollipop, a sticker and a cool band-aid, and parents receive written results of their child’s blood lead level, along with a home lead test kit.

For more information about toxic chemicals in children’s toys and other products, visit www.healthytoys.org

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