Just in time for Christmas, Albany County legislators passed a bill last month that would ban the sale of toys believed to contain one of seven dangerous chemicals.
Opposing an initiative like this would be like coming out against Santa Claus, yet there are several reasons why County Executive Daniel McCoy should veto it.
While the Toxic-Free Toys Act clearly has its heart in the right place, it would be a nightmare to enforce. So many shops sell the toys, trinkets and clothing that would be covered by the bill, but the county hardly has the personnel needed to run around checking up on them.
And even if it did (which would cost a fortune), it would be difficult for those people to detect the violators. Product labels don’t exactly boast about containing known carcinogens; aside from those for foodstuffs, they don’t often indicate what the products are made of.
Further, even with toxic chemicals, there can be disagreement over whether a safe exposure level exists for humans and whether that level might vary with the human’s age. So we leave it up to the federal government, which has the means needed to better make such determinations. And, for the most part, it has given what’s sold in the United States a clean bill of health.
Granted, for political or budgetary reasons, the feds might not do as good a job making such determinations as they could, but would Albany County do any better? Perhaps, but probably not without spending a ton of money.
And its politicians would probably be susceptible to the same pressures (from manufacturers, importers, wholesalers) that federal ones are.
Banning products that have been deemed safe for consumption everywhere else in the country would, among other things, open the county up to lawsuits. It would create a nuisance for retailers in the county, not to mention the wholesale networks outside the region that supply them. And if those suppliers simply stopped doing business in Albany County as a result, it would give competitors outside the county a big competitive advantage.
Dealing with an issue like this isn’t a bad idea, but Washington is the preferred place to do it.
Barring cooperation there, the focus should be at the state level (indeed, a similar initiative is pending in the Legislature).
But trying to do it at a county or local level seems impractical.