Keeping Children Safe from Dangers in Toys and Games

By Yolanda Whyte, MD,
Environmental Community Action Inc. (ECO-Action) Board Member

Playing with toys and games are one of the most enjoyable ways to socially engage children of all ages. Toys stimulate their visual and physical senses and, most importantly, their imagination. As a pediatrician, I can assess a child’s stage of development and some aspects of their mental health by carefully observing how they play and interact with toys. However, in my career, I’ve seen numerous health and safety risks that toys sometimes pose to our children.

African American baby playing with the letter A, 6 months old

Baby playing with the letter A, 6 months old

Younger children risk being exposed to dangerous plasticizers, heavy metals like lead and mercury, and other toxic chemicals added to toys and children’s products. Some toys have been found to contain dangerous levels of toxic chemicals that far exceed safety standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since babies explore through touching and mouthing, especially when teething, they can ingest these toxins or absorb them through skin. Once children are exposed to these toxins they can build up over time and impair their development, organ function, ability to learn and overall health.  A number of consumer reports from health and advocacy groups have alerted us to this problem and its extent.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. Public Interest Research Group’s Trouble in Toyland report found over ten times the legal limit of chromium in a pencil case and over 20 times the legal limit in a slinky toy. Chromium can cause allergic reactions, rashes, ulcers and cancer. A jump rope was found to containing over 10 times the legal limit of phthalates which are linked to birth defects, hormone disruptions, early puberty and cancer
  2. The Campaign for Healthy Solution’s A Day Late and a Dollar Short report on dollar store products found children’s earrings to contain over 65 times the legal limit for lead, which can damage the brain and nervous system, increase the risk of cancer, preterm birth and birth defects. More than 80% of the products tested contained phthalates, antimony, chromium other toxic chemicals.
  3. The New York League of Conservation Voters’ Toxic Toys in Erie County report identified arsenic, cadmium, antimony, lead, cobalt and mercury in their testing of several children’s products sold in popular chain stores like Target, Macy’s, Party City and the Dollar Store.
  4. The Environmental Working Group also released a Tests Find Asbestos in Kids’ Crayons, Crime Scene Kits report where asbestos fibers, which are linked to lung disease and cancer, were detected in children’s crayons and fingerprint sets.
  5. In a coalition report from Washington Toxics, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and Safer States report, retailers like Walmart, Target, Nike and Toys R Us reported on the presence of formaldehyde, phthalates, flame retardants, BPA, parabens and industrial solvents in children’s dolls, toys, toy cars, clothes, car seats, personal care products and other children’s products.

The toxicity of some chemicals is synergized when they are combined, and the effect on tissues and organs is more pronounced if the exposure occurs during a critical stage of child development.  These chemicals now commonly appear in biomonitoring studies of blood, urine and even the umbilical cord blood of newborns.  The rate of pediatric cancers, autism, birth defects have all increased over the past decades, urging for the immediate need to limit our exposure to toxic chemicals, as the single-most important prevention strategy.  A commentary entitled Evidence from Toxicology: The Most Essential Science for Prevention published in this month’s Environmental Health Perspectives adds that adopting principles in medicine and public health that are based on the evidence of toxicological studies has the benefit of reducing delays and costs for researchers, consumers, regulators and industry stakeholders.  This suggests a need for stronger protections by both state and federal lawmakers, and also for adequate resources for effective enforcement of environmental rules.

A very important federal bill, designed to regulate some of the chemicals that are allowed in our products, including toys, is now expected to be updated for the first time in four decades.  While the U.S. House and Senate passed their versions of the bill modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act, loopholes still exist that allow many toxins to enter consumer markets and deny states the right to protect themselves with a stronger set of protections, when federal policies are inadequate.  Eco-Action is part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which has over 400 members, and is working to iron out these flaws in the final bill to be presented to President Obama and signed into law.

ECO-Action is committed to educating and protecting our local community on environmental and safety concerns such as these. We are dedicated to improving the health and quality of life for our children and families. Please contact us at www.eco-act.org for more information and how you can support a campaign for precautionary policy to prevent exposure to hazardous substances to Children and their families. Also, check out the following resources:

National Poison Control Center (800) 222-1212 or www.poison.org

National Battery Ingestion Hotline (202) 625-3333 or
http://www.poison.org/battery

www.recalls.gov for an online compilation of US Recalls

Lunching and Learning to Revitalize Proctor Creek and Nearby Communities

What’s going on at Proctor Creek? What efforts are ongoing there? How can non profits, agencies and the City of Atlanta work together to revitalize the Creek along with the residents who live near it?

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Photo courtesy Ivory Young

Community members, Proctor Creek supporters, Fulton County and City of Atlanta staff participated in a City of Atlanta Lunch and Learn sponsored by District 3 Councilmember Ivory Young on Friday October 30th to hear more about just this At the event, held in the Old Council Chambers of City, Hall, representatives of ECO-Action, the Community Improvement Association, the Conservation Fund, Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance provided updates on the wide range of ongoing initiatives in the Proctor Creek Watershed. By providing a forum where community organizations might inform City government officials of these initiatives and highlight proposed activities, Councilmember Young hoped to identify ways that agencies might work in partnership with community organizations to meet these needs.

ECO-Action’s presentation focused on the next steps in implementing community projects identified though the completion of the Proctor Creek Health Survey. Since the survey data was collected and analyzed late last year, ECO-Action and Emory University, who together led the effort to complete the survey, have been meeting with interested Vine City and English Avenue community members to identify next steps to reduce the impact of flooding on public health. Community members identified six key goals for future action arising from the study findings. These areas were:

  1. Educate to promote lifestyle change (personal action)
  2. Facilitate home repair, maintenance and pest control (individual/landlord action)
  3. Provide smart relocation resources (personal action and support through a resource support system for relocation)
  4. Promote individual and community-wide green infrastructure as a method to prevent and reduce flooding and sewer overflows (personal and City action)
  5. Provide services and support for people with asthma (personal, physician and Fulton County Health Department action)
  6. Advocate for public policy promoting healthy homes (collective action geared toward City and Fulton County Health Departments)

ECO-Action’s Dr. Yomi presented six community-identified strategies that have been develop to achieve these goals. These strategies would enhance rental unit maintenance, senior home maintenance, pest control, assist individuals in smart relocation and provide additional community education about mold remediation, pest control and green infrastructure through a series of awareness workshops.

Other presentations made at the Lunch and Learn addressed:

Photo courtesy Na'Taki Osborne-Jelks

Photo courtesy Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks

  1. Capacity building for the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council presented by Darryl Haddock, a representative of the Council;
  2. Proctor Creek Citizen Science Programs presented by Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance;
  3. Advancing Community Greenway and Green Infrastructure Visioning presented by Stacy Funderburke with the Conservation Fund;
  4. Atlanta Urban Environmental Resources Center presented by Tony Torrence, of the Vine City Community Improvement Association.

As each of these initiatives were presented, Councilmember Young identified ongoing City efforts that might complement them and provided suggestions for additional funding and partnerships.

There’s a great deal happening near the Creek. Working together, non profits, City government and citizens can enhance both the vitality and the beauty of this resource in our midst while improving the lives and livelihood of those living nearest to it.

AUC and Community Together Promote Green Infrastructure at Community Forum 2

DSCF0424 800x600ECO-Action and its partners  (The Conservation Fund, Park Pride, CIA, WAWA and MAUWI), continue to engage the impacted under-served communities of English Avenue and Vine City in the Proctor Creek watershed through its Green Infrastructure for the AUC Initiative. The 2nd Green Infrastructure Community Forum held on November 14th at the Lindsay Street Baptist Church made a big step in advancing this effort.

Spelman student presenters at Community Forum 2

Spelman student presenters at Community Forum 2

Speakers first shared progress on the implementation of the Proctor Creek/North Avenue Study (which proposed green infrastructure improvements for the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods) and progress on ongoing efforts by AUC faculty, staff and students to develop green infrastructure conceptual plans.

Having this material as a foundation, participants created action plans that could guide their collective efforts to spearhead community led projects that would improve conditions in Proctor Creek neighborhoods. The action plan areas were:

  1. Developing a Proctor Creek Learning Exchange,
  2. Advancing Workforce Development for Green Infrastructure,
  3. Creating a Smart Relocation Resource Center and
  4. Advancing the Improvement of the Proctor Creek North Avenue Conceptual plans through joint student/community efforts.

All of these projects will  engage community and University participants in service projects that advance green infrastructure and address community environmental justice concerns. The plans that were created are a roadmap for future efforts. They also include a structure that engages AUC faculty, staff and students in these efforts. The action steps developed during the group’s deliberations will not only help to advance green infrastructure but also help to lift up communities out of unhealthy homes, create green spaces, and improve the quality of Proctor Creek.  You can read more about these action plans on the Green Infrastructure at the AUC page of the website.

The forum closed with tour of the nearby Lindsay Street Park led by Shannon Lee of the Conservation Fund.  This Vine City park which formally opened in October,  showcases a daylighted section of Proctor Creek and includes green infrastructure and native plantings.

Looking In: Toxic battle — Congress should choose kids

by Katherine McFate

SC-buttonDespite parents’ best efforts to buy organic and use natural products, toxic chemicals are still found in baby toys, the lining of food containers, cosmetics and other products we use daily. The situation is worse for families with limited budgets. A recent report by the Campaign for Healthier Solutions found more than 80 percent of products tested from discount retailers contained lead, phthalates or other chemicals linked to cancer, learning disabilities and birth defects. And as Richard Moore and Sofia Martinez noted in The Santa Fe New Mexican earlier this year (“A toxic shell game: State deserves better,” My View, March 29), communities in New Mexico and other places face a legacy of overexposure to toxins.

You might think that the federal government would have tested the 84,000 chemicals registered for commercial use today. You’d be wrong.

 Forty years ago, the federal government did pass a law meant to protect the American people from exposure to toxic chemicals. But opposition from the chemical industry made it a five-year fight, and the final law was deeply flawed. Instead of requiring manufacturers to prove new chemicals are safe before they are marketed, the Toxic Substances Control Act allows a chemical to continue to be used until or unless the Environmental Protection Agency can prove that it poses an “unreasonable risk to human health.” The burden is on government to prove a chemical is unsafe.

Thanks to lobbying from chemical manufacturers, the law allowed the 62,000 chemicals already in use in 1976 to remain on the market, with no safety testing required. Of the more than 20,000 new chemicals registered since then, EPA has ordered testing of only 250 of them, and just nine chemicals have been restricted.

You can read more here.

Katherine McFate is the president and CEO of the Washington-based, Center for Effective Government,  a member organization of the Safer Chemicals Healthy Family Coalition. This OpEd piece was originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican. As  a Georgia partner in the Safer Chemicals Healthy Family Coalition, ECO-Action is involved in the state’s fight to keep toxic chemicals away from our children.  Look for more information about this vital issue soon.

The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition Shows the People’s Power!

turnerfieldDr. Yomi Noibi, Executive Director, ECO-Action

With the construction of the new stadium in Cobb County, the 77 acres of public land that now make up the Turner Field Stadium area are poised for new development. Housing, transportation options, and all other aspects of creating a livable community are on the table. It’s a huge opportunity for positive growth in the area, if the members of the surrounding NPU-V community can be active in the planning process. The Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition (TFCBC) is working for exactly that – an inclusive development planning process that connects the residents, stakeholders, business owners and students of the surrounding neighborhoods and honors their needs as the area is developed.

But unfortunately, the residents of these neighborhoods have not been included in the planning thus far. Instead, Georgia State University and private developer Carter worked together to come up with their own plan and process for the redevelopment of Turner Field and its immediate environs. On June 2, 2015, the stage was set for GSU and the private developer to reveal those plans at a community meeting.

On this day – the community’s first opportunity to weigh in – the people truly showed up. TFCBC demonstrated the power of community organization by packing more than 200 people into the meeting room. Their message? “You do not invite us to come see your plans for us. We invite you.” In response Carter President Scott Taylor said, the partners wanted to present a vision of “how we can collectively and collaboratively make this very special,” and vowed a transparent process involving the desires of stadium neighborhoods.

TFCMC 060215Because realistically, who is better poised to say where new housing is needed than someone who might live there? Who better to suggest necessary transportation options than someone who might use them? These types of decisions cannot be made without the people they affect sitting at the table. The TFCBC sent this strong message to Georgia State University that day, ensuring not only that they will be sitting at the table as the planning process moves forward, but that their voices will be heard.

If you would like to get involved with the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, which is working to create livable communities that meets the needs of their residents, visit www.turnerfieldcoalition.org or find them on Facebook and Twitter @TFCoalition . ECO-Action is a founding member of TFCBC and will continue to provide ongoing support to this vital community initiative.