In the news

WashPIRG
|
NPI Advocate
By
Steve Breaux

I love the holidays just as much as the next person. 

Alright, that's not entirely true. While I love the excuse it provides for parties, I don’t care for most of the other stuff — especially the blatant commercialism. 

It’s bad enough to see Christmas marketed to us in big-box stores when the Halloween candy is still marked down, and gets worse with the faux news stories of stores opening at ever more obnoxiously early hours on “Black Friday.” Somehow I can never reconcile the equation of money saved versus sleep lost. 

Next, of course, is “Cyber Monday,” a term that was created by the National Retail Federation five years ago to promote — wait for it — online shopping! It’s a complete fallacy that everyone is sitting at work doing their online shopping on the first Monday after Thanksgiving, but so what – it makes for a good news story. 

Of course, an even better story would depict, in nauseating detail, how major toy retailers are endangering children’s safety for the sake of a quick buck (let's call it “Toxic Tuesday", to keep the theme rolling). 

“Toxic Tuesday” is the day that all those online and big-box toy retailers begin shipping out all the dangerous toys they said they’d stop selling the last time there was a major toy safety recall. 

Back in 2008, Toys “R” Us publicly promised to reduce their distribution of toxic toys that contain polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC) and to offer more PVC-free products. But today, according to MomsRising.org, independent researchers have established that Toys "R" Us continues to sell products made out of PVC, the "poison plastic” that has been linked to reproductive problems, increased allergies, and obesity. Good intentions have clearly not been followed up with action.

And major retailers — including Toys “R” Us, K-Mart, Target and Amazon — continue to sell toys with a wide range of other dangerous chemicals including lead, antimony and phthalates. 

In their 25th annual “Trouble in Toyland” toy safety report, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and its local affiliate WashPIRG detailed some of the dangers posed by toxic toys, including: 

  • Plastic toy handcuffs available in the dollar section of a local Toys "R" Us that contain antimony, a known cancer-causing agent, on the surface coating at 1,200 parts per million (ppm) – 20 times the legal limit of 60 ppm.
  • The “Bright Stars Travel Book,” an infant’s toy available at Toys "R" Us, contains antimony, at twice the legal limit.
  • A “Dora the Explorer” backpack manufactured by Global Design Concepts and available at a Clare’s store in downtown Seattle contains phthalates, a chemical used to make plastic softer but which has been connected to adverse reproductive and developmental health effects.
  • The crown in the “Princess Expressions Tiara and Jewelry” set manufactured by Almar Sales and available in local K-Mart stores contains 87 ppm lead. Lead has been banned in paint since 1977, and in gasoline for nearly as long, because it is a powerful neurotoxin that causes chronic problems including lower IQ and behavioral problems.

Things are getting better at both the federal and state level. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is doing a good job under its expanded authority, and this year the Legislature passed SB 6248 to ban the phthalate BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and similar containers beginning in July 2011 and plastic sports bottles in July 2012. 

But more can — and should — be done. 

USPIRG has called on Congress and the Obama Administration to reform chemicals policy to address the tens of thousands of chemicals that are in the products that children come in contact with every day; to help consumers this shopping season, they’ve released an app that shows if toys are safe. 

Meanwhile, MomsRising.org is calling on families to tell Toys “R” Us to keep their promise to keep kids safe from toxic PVC chemicals in toys and is promoting an app at HealthyStuff.org to help shoppers. 

The traditional media, controlled by giant corporations who count many of the aforementioned retailers as loyal advertisers, only seems to care about serving as a watchdog when there's a big scandal to report on. Since they're often too busy reporting on the latest celebrity gossip, we have to rely on organizations like USPIRG, WashPIRG and MomsRising.org to alert us to the presence of harmful carcinogens in many of the toys that are being aggressively marketed to children. Sadly, it seems like "Toxic Tuesday" needs to become an annual tradition.

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