WASHINGTON - December 5 - In a victory for children’s health and the environment, a key federal agency took an unprecedented step to protect millions of America’s children from toxic lead poisoning by banning leaded toy jewelry. In responding to a formal request by the Sierra Club, the Consumer Product Safety Commission staff formally recommended that the agency invoke a nationwide ban on toy jewelry marketed to children containing more than 0.06% lead.
"The Commission is doing a huge favor to parents by calling for a total ban on toy jewelry with unsafe levels of lead," said Jessica Frohman, who chairs the Sierra Club's National Toxics Committee. "No matter how vigilant parents are in protecting their kids from toxic toys, it's no substitute for clear federal action to keep dangerous products off of store shelves in the first place."
The Commission is expected to make a final decision on December 11, 2006 Traditionally, staff recommendations are a good indication of where the agency is headed.
Lead can affect brain development of young children and has been directly linked to a wide range of learning disorders. More than 300,000 American children have blood lead levels high enough to cause irreversible damage according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every one of these cases is avoidable. (Tips on keeping children safe from lead jewelry can be found at http://www.sierraclub.org/healthycommunities/lead/.)
After a child in Minnesota died as a result of eating a pendant containing lead on a pair of Reebok shoes earlier this year, the Sierra Club petitioned both EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission urging preventative action. In marked contrast to the proactive approach of the Commission, EPA denied the Sierra Club's petition. Specifically, the agency refused to require companies to submit health and safety studies regarding lead in their products and to require companies who already had products recalled for lead to document that they have protections in place to stop it from happening again. In September, the Sierra Club, with support from the state attorneys general from New York and Illinois, went to court to force EPA to take action to protect families.
"American families really need EPA to work together with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to get toxic toys off of store shelves and out of vending machines," added Frohman. "Without both agencies doing what they can, moms and dads will be fighting this problem with one hand tied behind their backs."
While lead paint in older homes is the major cause of childhood lead poisoning, many children are also being exposed to toxic lead through the toys they love. The use of lead in both costume and children’s jewelry continues to be common. Toy jewelry poses a particular problem because of the high likelihood that young kids put them in their mouths and may even swallow them.
Toy jewelry made from lead is widely sold in vending machines, dollar stores, and stores that primarily sell to new immigrant communities, but these harmful products can also be found on the shelves of major retailers. Since 2004, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) has researched and tested hundreds of pieces of jewelry for lead. CEH took legal action against the retailers and manufacturers of these products, resulting in industry wide reformulations and binding agreements with close to 100 companies nationally, including J.C. Penny, Target, Mervyns, Sears, Toys R Us, and Kmart. (A full list of stores can be found at http://www.cehca.org/jewelry.htm#other)
Some state and local health departments, including the Indiana State Department of Health and Baltimore City Health Department, have also been undertaking their own investigations and ordering recalls. But that approach has limitations, which is why the Sierra Club’s case has the support of the attorneys general from New York and Illinois and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, among others.
To read the Sierra Club petition to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, see: http://www.sierraclub.org/toxics/Sierra_CPSC_TSCA_Petition_4_17_2006.pdf.
For a copy of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's official recommendation, contact Eric Antebi 415-977-5747.