Young and old join campaign to oppose ‘toxic trade’


A sizeable crowd gathered Wednesday outside U.S. Senator Norm Coleman’s St. Paul office to demand a stop to imports of lead-laced toys and other unsafe products. But it may have been the littlest voices that spoke the loudest.

Carrying signs that read, “Protect us” and chanting “Stop toxic trade,” a group of preschoolers led the procession into Coleman’s office to present petitions signed by hundreds of Minnesotans. The event was sponsored by the United Steelworkers; the toddlers were there as a show of solidarity by AFSCME/Child Care Providers Together. (Video below)

Tara Widner wears haz mat suit to protest toxic trade

Steelworker Tara Widner, dubbed the “Toxic Trade Avenger,” wore a hazardous materials suit at the protest and carried a bag of toys that have tested positive for lead.

Photo by Steve Share
Coleman was not there, but a staff member accepted the petitions and some handwritten letters calling on Congress to act. The event was one of 100 that took place at Congressional district offices across the country as part of a National Day of Action on Toxic Trade.

In addition to the demonstration at Coleman’s office, Minnesota events were held at Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s office in St. Cloud and Congressman Tim Walz’s office in Rochester. All were organized by the United Steelworkers and joined by day care providers, union members, community activists, environmentalists and others.

“I’m a grandma and I’m very concerned about my grandchildren and what they’re playing with,” said Nan Duchene, Women of Steel coordinator for USW District 11. Women of Steel is leading the “Get the Lead Out” campaign. In addition to demonstrations such as that held Wednesday, the group is holding sessions in people’s homes to talk about toxic imports and provide training on how to test for them.

The union is offering free screening kits, for as long as they last, at or

“The massive toy recalls this holiday season drew attention to the much larger problem of the countless dangerous imports – tires, toothpaste, fake drugs, pet food – making their way onto U.S. store shelves,” USW President Leo Gerard said in a statement released as part of the National Day of Action.

“People are starting to realize that we’re paying the price for cheap, imported goods so corporations can make bigger profits. It’s time for our policymakers to fix this broken trade system, repair our regulatory agencies and protect our jobs and families.”

The USW supports the U.S. Food and Product Responsibility Act, introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Congressman Pete Visclosky, D-Ind. This legislation would safeguard Americans against toxic food and products by making manufacturers and the companies that import the goods more accountable.

Beginning with the recall of 1.5 million Thomas the Tank Engine toys in June last year, more than 6 million toys have been recalled for high levels of lead. Lead can cause a variety of health problems, including learning disabilities, stunted growth, kidney damage and even death. Other toxic imports include lipstick, toothpaste, seafood, children’s lunchboxes and pet food.

The list of documented toxic imports is now more than a foot thick, the union said. View a list of some of the most common items.

For more information
Read more about the campaign to prevent toxic imports and unfair trade at