Suffolk County lawmakers Tuesday unanimously passed a bill requiring the county to test toys on store shelves for possible toxins.
The Toxic Free Toy Act would require inspectors to visit 10 stores and test 10 toys each quarter, using a scanner-like device to detect lead, mercury, antimony, arsenic, cadmium and cobalt. Stores would be chosen randomly and one new inspector would be hired.
"The goal is to get the toxic chemicals that are in the toys off the shelf," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), a bill sponsor.
Environmental groups said if the legislation passes, Suffolk County would be at the forefront of a national push for tighter restrictions on harmful chemicals that have been found in toys.
"This fight is bigger than Suffolk County, but can't be won without the county," Joshua Klainberg, senior vice president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, testified Tuesday. The Toy Industry Association, which represents toy manufacturers and retailers, and the American Chemical Association oppose the bill.
Federal legislation is scheduled for debate later this month in the U.S. House of Representatives, said Stephen Rosario, director of the Northeast region at the American Chemistry Council. "Does it truly make sense to move forward at this time in light of state and federal legislation?" he said.
The proposed county law contains a nullification provision if the state or federal governments pass restrictions that are substantially similar or tougher.Fred Locker, counsel for Safe to Play Coalition, which represents toy and children's products manufacturers, said there is no need for county legislation because there already is adequate state and federal regulation of children's toys.
"The question I have to ask is why -- why spend taxpayer money to enact a law that is unnecessary?" Locker told county lawmakers Tuesday.
Hahn introduced the bill after the environmental groups Clean & Healthy New York and the New York League of Conservation Voters released a report last year that said toys with potentially toxic chemicals were for sale at discount retailers and big-box and department stores on Long Island.
The bill would require Suffolk to begin informing retailers about the requirements in January and start spot-checks later in the year. Retailers would be informed if dangerous chemicals in their products exceed levels set in the county law, and would face fines of $500 to $1,000 if they continue to sell the toys.
The county would use an x-ray fluorescence analyzer, a handheld scanner-like device, to test toys. The estimated cost is $98,272 a year to lease the scanner and hire an inspector, according to the legislature's Budget Review Office.
Albany and Westchester counties have passed similar bills, although Albany's legislation is on hold after toy industry opponents filed a legal challenge.
Of the chemicals that the Suffolk proposal would regulate, long-term inhalation or oral exposure to cadmium, for instance, leads to a build-up of the chemical in the kidneys that can cause kidney disease, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cadmium exposure has resulted in fetal malformations and other effects in animals, but no conclusive evidence exists in humans, the EPA said.