When my daughter Simmone was 5 years old, the excitement over her long anticipated milestone, losing her first tooth, was enhanced by the crisp dollar bill that the tooth fairy brought. Eager to spend her new dollar, my husband took her to a local dollar store while I was working a late shift at the hospital. After a thorough inspection of the items in each aisle, Simmone chose a doll-size blow up raft.
The following morning I followed the trail of wrappers and a cardboard insert until I reached Simmone’s room, where she was happily playing with her new toy and eager to show it to me. Upon looking at the waste in my hand I noticed the WARNING sign at the bottom of the cardboard insert.
Now I have to admit, I figured the vinyl blow up raft had harmful chemicals on it and I was trying my best to simply enjoy the moment, knowing it would break in a few days and I would be able to dispose of it. However, seeing the WARNING label changed everything.
WARNING: THIS PRODUCT CONATAINS CHEMICALS, INCLUDING LEAD; KNOWN TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA TO CAUSE CANCER AND BIRTH DEFECTS OR OTHER REPRODUCTIVE HARM. WASH HANDS AFTER HANDLING.
“Simmone, I’m really sorry but your new toy has dangerous chemicals in it that can hurt your brain. I need you to wash your hands, while I throw it away. I’ll give you another dollar to replace it.” I immediately and instinctively said to my little girl.
Simmone walked to the bathroom and while washing her hands asked, “So, playing with my toy could hurt my brain? That’s sad. Mommy, how many kids do you think have already played with this toy and are hurting their brains?”
“I’m not sure, honey” was the best I could come up with.
Then my little girl turned off the faucet and looked at me. “Mommy, while I’m at school today I want you to go back to the store and tell them to not sell it any more….and then I want you to call President Obama and tell him it (toys with harmful chemicals) shouldn’t even be allowed in the store for kids like me to buy and play with” she said.
Amazed at my little girl’s advocacy and empathy for others I told her I would go to the store while she was at school, but that she would have to tell Obama’s “friend” herself. It took a few days for her to agree, and a few months to make it happen, but on a warm, rainy morning in August, Simmone did just that and was able to bring her message to Washington, DC.
Simmone was awed by the ornate architecture and I was awed by her bravery. After walking a few blocks from the metro to the House of Representatives, and then down the vast, echoing hallways, we met with an assistant of Frank Kratovil, U.S. House of Representatives, from Maryland’s 1st district. This young assistant ushered us into the honorable Kratovil’s office and gave us a quick tour of the pictures on his wall: playing basketball with the President, his young family, etc. Then, Simmone and her older sister, Ella, joined me on an oversized leather couch; their little legs were sticking out, unable to reach the floor.
The aid, familiar with the story from my email, gently encouraged Simmone to show him her new smile and tell him about the toy she bought with the money from the tooth fairy. At first, Simmone needed prodding as she hid behind me, but then gained confidence as she started to tell her story. You could see her recalling the frustration she experienced over the thought that playing with a simple toy could hurt her brain. “How silly!” she said. “It doesn’t make sense. Can you please help?” she asked.
I am so proud of my daughter for taking a stand for other children whose parents may not know about the dangers kids face from toxic chemicals in toys. But it would be even better if she didn’t have to think about this at all. Parents and kids deserve to know that toys that the chemicals used in toys have been tested for safety and are not linked to health effects such as asthma, cancer, and learning disabilities.
This is why I am supporting the Safe Chemicals Act. This legislation would require health and safety testing on chemicals and help to ensure that chemicals are safe before they are used in everyday products such as toys and cleaning products.
Join me today and ask your Senator to co-sponsor this important piece of legislation. Our kids’ health is depending on us.
Charlotte has been a pediatric nurse in Maryland for 18 years. She transitioned to environmental health to focus on a healthier hospital for the wellness and disease prevention of the patients, staff, and her surrounding community. She is the Sustainability Coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center and the Chair of Maryland’s Health Care Sustainability Leadership Council.