A Cautionary Toy Story


You better watch out and public officials are telling you why.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a letter on Tuesday urging a number of large retailers to be cautious of the children’s products they put on the market for the holiday season since many might contain toxic chemicals or be harmful to kids in other ways.

Schneiderman joined Public Advocate Letitia James, consumer affairs officials and other lawmakers at his office in Lower Manhattan to publicize the warnings.

“No parent should have to fear for their child’s safety when they buy at a legitimate business,” Schneiderman said. “Just because a product is on the shelf does not mean that it’s safe.”

Recent investigations including one entitled Toxic Toys in Albany County by Clean & Healthy New York Inc. and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund reported that many children’s items sold in Albany County contained toxic chemicals including arsenic, mercury and lead. These materials have been found in children’s toys as well as in costume jewelry and hair clips.

“Anyone who has raised a child knows that they go through a period of time when everything they interact with goes in their mouth,” Schneiderman said. “Children can ingest chemicals from toys either by chewing or sucking on them or in some cases, just by touching them and putting their hands in their mouths.”

Scientific research has found that the toxic chemicals found in these toys can threaten children’s health. They are known to cause cancer, liver damage, genetic irregularities and cognitive impairment. According to the Albany County report, “children’s immature metabolism makes them less able to break down and excrete toxic chemicals.”

Schneiderman pointed out that many of the toys consumers buy look innocent and parents may not think of them as hazardous. He said an easy way to determine whether a toy could be dangerous is seeing if it weighs more than its apparent size – for instance, if this happens with metallic products, it is a good indicator that the product contains lead. He also urged that consumers frequently check for product recalls.

Under state and federal law, retailers are obligated to ensure that the products marketed to children are safe. It is illegal to sell, import or manufacture children’s products that could pose risk of harm. The attorney general is allowed to take “appropriate enforcement action” when items containing unsafe levels of chemicals are sold. Manufactures could face penalties up to $1,000 per violation or or have the toys banned by a court.

Officials also warned consumers about potential scam artists who prey on the elderly, immigrants and the impressionable through bogus internet “promotions” and telemarketing campaigns.

“It’s critically important that individuals be cognizant of all of these scammers that currently exist and are out there to also have a very good holiday at your expense,” James said.

When making online purchases, the AG’s office recommends using credit cards instead of debit cards over secure internet connections that are password protected. They also said to look for “https” at the beginning of web addresses because the ‘s’ means your sensitive information will be encrypted for your protection.

Lawmakers encouraged consumers to report any products they encounter that may contain harmful chemicals or materials. The letter reminding retailers to ensure safety of children’s toys on store shelves was sent to retailers including Wal-Mart,Target, Amazon and Toys ‘R’ Us.

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