Bronx stores stock many toxic toys

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This holiday season, Bronx moms and dads will sweep through Toys ‘R’ Us, Marshalls and Target in search of bargains. After all, the borough and nation are in recession.

But there’s danger lurking down the toy aisle – arsenic pins, bromine racecars and bracelets sprayed with lead.

For A Better Bronx and Montefiore Medical Center released a Michigan non-profit’s second annual consumer report on toxic toys Wednesday, December 3 outside the Bruckner Plaza Toys ‘R’ Us in Castle Hill.

Of 1,500 toys tested countrywide, one in three contained harmful chemicals at ‘medium’ or ‘high’ levels. Generally speaking, inexpensive toys tested worse.

Trevor Nicholas, FBB’s Youth Program Coordinator, engaged shoppers entering and exiting Toys ‘R’ Us last week.

“It’s like, ‘Okay, I just bought $500 worth of toys and now you’re telling me they could kill my son,’” Nicholas said. “My concern is for low income people. We’re buying these cheap toys that are poisonous.”

Lead was detected in 20 percent of the toys tested. Other heavy metals like cadmium and mercury, as well as arsenic, bromine, nickel and chlorine rounded out the non-profit’s findings. Toy manufacturers use such substances to add rigidity, durability and flexibility to fabrics, plastics and paints.

“No amount of lead is safe for children,” Dr. Hal Strelnick, from Montefiore’s Community Health unit, said.

Most toy toxins aren’t fatal. In fact, the poisons work subtly and slowly. In the absence of immediate symptoms, exposure to lead and arsenic can cause neurological and developmental problems, especially when the chemicals are ingested. That may sound complicated, but it’s as simple as your child chewing on a rubber ball.

“I’m a loving parent,” Maggie Rosado, a Bronxite shopping at Toys ‘R’ Us Wednesday, said. “I don’t always buy what my kids what they want. I don’t want to jeopardize them in any way.”

According to Strelnick, contact with heavy metals can trigger or intensify Attention Deficit Disorder and hyperactivity. Researchers have even linked toxic toys to incarceration; a study in Cincinnati connected lead poisoning and jail time.

“Low income children struggle in school and nobody asks why,” Nicholas said.

According to FBB, toxic toys are yet another brick in the wall separating poor Bronx children from academic and professional achievement – in the words of Carlos Alicea, FBB’s executive director, an economic, social and environmental ‘triple whammy.’

Although report deemed this year’s batch of toys safer than 2007’s, Feinberg is worried about the holiday season. Congress passed tougher federal regulations this summer, outlawing toys currently in stock. But the new Consumer Product Safety Commission rules won’t take effect until February – after the winter toy rush.

“The non-profit Ecology Center, which partnered with local groups like FBB across America, has re-launched a website,, that caters to parents desperate for safety information. The site lets visitors vet toys for toxins by name, brand or toy type. There’s a best and worst list, too.

Kids’ jewelry is the number one culprit.

Toys ‘R’ Us isn’t super-toxic. Actually, the store now carries a ‘green’ toy line – wood rather than plastic. FBB and Montefiore chose Toys ‘R’ Us because it’s popular.

Interestingly enough, Wednesday’s report did not find a correlation between country of manufacture and harmful toys. Last year, a rash of toy scandals damaged China’s industrial reputation.

For a Better Bronx is a Mott Haven based social and environmental justice organization. Montifiore boasts the nation’s largest lead-poisoning prevention center.

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