The County Executive’s Corner: Counting Faces Lawsuit re: Toxic Toys Legislation

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By Rockland County Executive Ed Day

A few weeks ago, I received word that Rockland County would be on the receiving end of a lawsuit. An advocacy group that calls itself “The Safe To Play Coalition” was threatening litigation following the recent adoption of the County’s so-called “Toxic Toys” law.  One did not need a crystal ball to see this coming.

The local law sponsored by Legislative Chairman Alden Wolfe is a prohibition against the sale of all toys, children’s products and clothing containing any level of Benzene, Lead, Mercury, Antimony, Arsenic, Cobalt and Cadmium.  Violation of the local law will result in a warning for first time offenders with subsequent fines of $500 for the second violation and $1,000 for further violations.

To the casual observer, placing an outright ban on such substances would appear to be a no-brainer. But, a closer look at the hastily-constructed law reveals substantial shortcomings that will have a detrimental impact on our families, our business owners and our local economy.

As drafted by Legislator Wolfe, language included in the bill makes it impossible for any manufacturer to achieve compliance. His research was inadequate, to say the least.  He neglected to seek input from the County’s Office of Consumer Protection, which would enforce the law, and even failed to get advice from our Health Department. Outrageous!

Our research found that the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) cannot verifiably show a complete absence of toxic substances in a given product.  Trace amounts of naturally occurring elements cannot be scientifically removed – ubiquitous elements that exist in the air we breathe, the water we drink and even in the organic foods we consume.

Legislator Wolfe’s insistence of a “zero tolerance” toxicity level for all toys sold in Rockland County essentially outlaws Nerf footballs, Lego building blocks, Barbie dolls and Magic Markers from retailers like Target and Toys “R” Us. Even our local McDonald’s recently pulled perfectly safe “Happy Meals” toys from its offerings.  If we were to apply this law to the same standards of our drinking water, we would die of thirst!

What’s worse is that this ill-conceived law “Toxic Toys” law extends to child safety seats currently sold at stores like Babies “R” Us.  Beyond the disappointment of children over the end of “Happy Meal” toys, we now have a significant economic issue as specialty retailers and big-box stores prepare to yank infant safety seats and toddler booster seats off the shelves.

Instead of vetoing this measure last summer, my administration and the county’s Law Department sought to work cooperatively with its author to cure obvious critical defects, resulting in a law that truly achieves the expressed intent of protecting our children from harmful chemicals. Sadly, Legislator Wolfe failed to engage anyone in this government about transforming an absurd law into a meaningful one.

Now, we are threatened with litigation seeking to prevent the County from enforcing the “Toxic Toys” regulations.  “Safe To Play” recently brought suit against Albany County, which has resulted in a stay of enforcement of that county’s “toxic toys” law.

In an effort to halt the lawsuit – and, save the tax dollars it will consume – County Attorney Thomas Humbach has negotiated an agreement with the Coalition. According to the terms of the deal, the group will hold off on suing the County until December 31, 2015.  In return, the county has agreed to implement a moratorium on enforcement until remedies are made.  Our Office of Consumer Protection will use its discretion and NOT act on the law through that time. County Attorney Humbach’s proactive move will undoubtedly save thousands of taxpayer dollars.

In the meantime, I hope Mr. Wolfe will use the next eight weeks to fix this law.  We should not send our residents to New Jersey or Westchester County to buy essential items like car seats.  I have no intention of pandering to the Coalition, but I must be armed with legitimate restrictions drafted in the best interest of the County’s residents, businesses and government.  When I have that law, regardless of the Coalition’s feelings about it, I will give it my support.

As a loving father and grandfather, I acknowledge that we must do everything in our power to make certain toxic chemicals have no place in children’s toys. As county executive, I wish to make Rockland the safest place for all children to grow up healthy and free from toxins in toys.

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