A Call for Toxic-Free Children's Products in Ulster County

Kingston, N.Y. - Researchers have discovered toxic chemicals such as lead, cadmium, and antimony hidden in a dozen popular children’s items for sale in Ulster County. The dangerous chemicals are linked to cancer, cognitive impairments and hyperactivity in children. The report, “A Call for Toxic-Free Children’s Products: Ulster County” was released today by Clean and Healthy New York and the Ulster County Chapter of Moms for a Non-Toxic New York at a news conference in the Legislative Chambers in the County Office Building in Kingston. Parents and advocates were joined by county legislators announcing a new bill to address the problem.


“A Call for Toxic-Free Children’s Products: Ulster County” reported on 12 children’s toys and products purchased from Dollar Tree, Target, and Toys”R”Us in December 2015. Researchers detected:


  • Antimony in three products: a backpack, lanyard, and costume;

  • Cadmium in nine products: a toy, two backpacks, lanyard, keychain, hair accessories, and two DIY jewelry sets;

  • Cobalt in four products: a xylophone, two hair accessory sets, and a DIY Jewelry set;

  • Lead in two products, both DIY jewelry sets.


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 Ulster County 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 failed to pass the Senate. In the absence of a strong state law, localities are taking matters into their own hands, with similar legislation having passed in Albany County in 2014, followed in 2015 by Westchester, Suffolk and Rockland counties.


"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 Ulster County to join Albany, Westchester, and Suffolk counties in enacting laws to protect children.”


Ulster County legislators rose to the call, introducing legislation last week that will be considered at tonight’s Health Committee.


“Like so many other parents, I suffered from the naive but false assumption that toxic chemicals were banned from children's products. I believed that our children were safe. I can hardly express the shock and subsequent anger I felt to find that toys and jewelry in my own home were laden with these harmful substances. It is empowering to know that we can do something about it.  This law will provide Ulster County children critical protection from toxic chemicals,” said Tracey Bartels, Ulster County Legislator, lead co-sponsor of the legislation.


"As a mom, I object to the fact that I have had to morph into a citizen scientist and accidental activist in order to protect my kids from playing with their own toys. It's absurd and appalling that kids need to be protected from toys. There should be nothing harmful in playthings, and yet we're talking about seriously toxic chemicals that can and do have the capacity to harm growing bodies, some of which have actually been banned from children's products years ago. The majority of parents have no clue their kids' toys contain bad stuff. Who would think of such a thing? For those of us in the know, finding ‘safer’ toys is a nearly impossible task as there's no disclosure of these chemicals on toy labels, so it's not like we can just choose to avoid them and vote with our dollars by buying better options. We need real pressure to be put on manufacturers and retailers and real protection. The only way this can happen is for our elected officials to step in and pass legislation to protect our kids from toxic products. So I'm asking for their help, for all of our kids," said Alexandra Zissu, Ulster County mom of two, journalist, and author of The Complete Organic Pregnancy, The Conscious Kitchen, and Planet Home


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 a type of scientific testing device used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to screen packaging, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to screen food, manufacturers to screen products, and many state and county health departments to screen for residential lead paint. 


All products in the report were bought from stores in Ulster County, in December of 2015. Only a tiny fraction of the children’s products for sale in Ulster County were tested, and the report is not intended to be a comprehensive report on the safety of any product or brand.


The report may be viewed and downloaded here (pdf).

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