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CHILDREN’S HEALTH: Toxic chemicals in kids’ toys would be disclosed under legislation being crafted at the State Capitol

Michigan parents would have new tools to help keep their kids safe from toxic chemicals in toys under legislation expected soon in the State Senate. The bill would require large toy manufacturers and importers to disclose their use of hazardous chemicals in children’s products.

With one-third of toys containing toxic chemicals, it is difficult for parents to differentiate the toxic toys from the safe, according to Rebecca Meuninck, environmental health campaign director of the Ecology Center. If passed, the law could change the nature of the guessing game parents play when trying to choose safe toys.

“It’s frustrating that I have no choices when purchasing because there is no information,” said Melissa Combs, a concerned mother of Parker, age 3, and Rowan, age 1, who supports the bill. Combs hopes the bill could help empower consumers to choose safer products for children.

The proposal was announced recently by Senator Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw, who is working with the Michigan Network for Children’s Environmental Health (MNCEH) to write the legislation. MNCEH is a coalition of health professionals, health-affected groups, and environmental organizations, including the Michigan Environmental Council. It is led by the Ecology Center, an MEC member organization.

“My bill will require large manufacturers and importers of children’s products to give families the information they need to protect children from the most hazardous chemicals,” Kahn said during a Jan. 19 press conference in the Capitol building.

Potential disincentives for the use of toxic chemicals by manufacturers could include labeling of hazardous chemicals contained within the toy, listing of manufacturers that use hazardous products in their toys, and fines for violators of the policy.

Such labeling would give parents new tools, but the decisions would still be up to them. Little Susie really wants the doll, but the label says the mercury concentration is a little high. What is a parent to do?

One option is to explore alternatives—which also could help Michigan businesses.

“Reducing childhood exposure to toxic chemicals in kids’ products is great for children’s health and local businesses,” said Jennifer Canvasser, environmental health organizer with the Ecology Center and MNCEH. Canvasser hopes parents will turn to small, local toy makers, like the ones at farmers markets. Since the law will only be applied to large-scale businesses and importers, local producers will have a competitive advantage.

Several other states, including California, Maine, and Washington, have passed similar legislation. The MNCEH plans to work with these states to ensure Michigan’s bill is as efficient as possible without negatively affecting business, according to Canvasser.

The Ecology Center had past success with the passage of a green chemistry law last year, signed by Governor Jennifer Granholm in December. The green chemistry law promotes greener practices in chemical production and use, encouraging the consideration of environmental and health impact of chemicals.
-Thea Hassan, MEC
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