Monday, February 18, 2008

Ecology Center Hosts Toxic Toy Testing in Ferndale

Parents brought their children’s favorite toys to the Kulick Community Center in Ferndale on Saturday to have their toys tested for lead and other toxic chemicals.

The event was put on by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor and Michigan state senator Gilda Jacobs. The guest speakers were The Ecology Center’s Policy Director Mike Shriberg and toxic chemical specialist Dr. Mike Harbut.

Much of the recent interest in unsafe chemicals comes amidst recent recalls of toys with unsafe levels of lead paint. The Ecology Center is one of many consumer advocacy organizations across the country that has been spearheading efforts to get dangerous chemicals out of everyday products.

Currently Federal law only regulates lead paint. Any paint that exceeds 600 ppm is illegal, to put this into perspective, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): any products that exceed 40 ppm are unsafe.

Recently Michigan passed a law banning all products that have levels of lead exceeding 600 ppm. Part of the package of the recent legislation includes the formation of the Michigan Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Commission. The Lead Commission will assess by the end of this March whether the 600 ppm ban on children's products is a low enough level.

Both Harbut and Shriberg want the Lead Commission to set lead levels as low as possible. According to Harbut “Lead serves no useful purpose to the human body…The general scientific standard is, there is no such thing as a safe level” Shriberg was quick to point out that much of the record recalls last year were voluntary toy recalls “because the Federal government actually lacks many of the tools to do this.”

Shriberg is concerned about the lack of disclosure to consumers: “…there is a huge gap here in information for parents and consumers of all types…There’s not even disclosure requirements between the retailer so the manufacturer doesn’t have to tell Toys R’ Us for instance, what’s actually in the product.”

What the Ecology Center is trying to do according to Shriberg is “take a small chunk of filling in that gap, but really trying to spur both state and federal government to action.”

The Ecology Center has been randomly testing toys; they test the toys with an XRF device. The XRF device is a gun-shaped device with a trigger and decked out with flames on the side. The device has been loaned to the Ecology Center since it costs $40,000. The XRF device gives an accurate measure of a products composition and is used by the FDA and throughout big industry to test products.

So far the Ecology Center has tested over 1200 products and found that a third of the products tested have had detectable amounts of lead and other hazardous substances. Hundreds of the products tested had levels above the 600 ppm standard though it was in the plastic, not the paint.

According to Shriber, price was not a factor in which toys had lead. But he does warn that any kind of children’s metal jewelry had the highest levels of lead.

Other things to look out for is lead-glazed earthenware, these are often large decorative coffee mugs. One of the cups a man brought in tested at 2100 ppm, and when Shriber pointed the gun inside of the cup he found low levels of mercury. Though Shriber points out that the toxins could be sealed inside the cup, which is ok as long as it doesn’t get chipped.

Harbut also warns that lead is found in plastic so people should be sure to wipe off their vinyl plastic window shades because they get coated with dust that contains lead that can then easily be ingested.

Shriber and the Ecology Center are sure to be busy as the March 31, deadline approaches for the Lead Commissions deadline on whether the 600 ppm requirement is protective enough for consumers.

The Ecology Center is currently offering to test daycares for $150 for about an hour where he can test up to 50 items. The website for the Ecology Center is: while the phone number is (734) 761-3186

Here is a recent Nation article on this topic.

Mark Schapiro will be speaking at the Ecology Center's Annual Membership meeting on April 10 from 7:00-9:00. The meeting location will be announced soon.

Michigan Network for Children's Environmental Health

By Jason Tafilowski

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