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Countdown to toy safety’s starting all over

Submitted by on Tuesday, 3 February 2009 2 Comments

toysWhat  Congress and the White House did in August, two Consumer Product Safety commissions undid Friday when they agreed to wait a year to enforce testing standards for lead and phthalates in children’s products.

Part of the delay was for good reason. The commission had so hopelessly blown implementation of the  Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that manufacturers large and small who had been making an honest effort were confused and frustrated. We’ve been busy, commissioners basically told senators in a letter Friday invoking the  “overworked and understaffed” defense.

And what was clearly understood about the law was clearly ridiculous: Manufacturers from Mattel to Mom selling hair bows at the county fair would have to have each lot tested, even if every component going into the product already had been tested.

But to delay a year puts full enforcement of the toughest lead law in the world almost three years behind the recall outbreak that started it all.

It’s more of a delay than some CPSIA critics wanted.

U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, for example, says he plans to introduce legislation asking for a six-month delay. With the exception of his Good Faith Exemption that basically would give manufacturers a get out of jail free card by using the “oops I didn’t mean to” excuse, most of the South Carolina Republican’s proposals make much sense.

If DeMint, who was opposed to parts of the new law from the start, thinks it’s do-able in six months, it’s troubling that  regulars want to drag it out an additional six. Particulary since the repeal drumbeat already is banging.

“Let the industry and science take care of regulation,” the law’s critics say. I can think of hundreds of reasons that doesn’t work, all of them listed in the Food and Drug Administration’s salmonella recall database.

A lot of lobbying and creative labeling can happen in 12 months.

No doubt big manufacturers already are reprinting labeling to declare that most playthings are meant for ages 12 and up. While that might look suspicious on, say, a Raggedy Ann doll, all they’d have to do in that case is call it a collectible.

Anyone who thinks that won’t happen should try shopping for children’s sleepwear. You won’t find much. You’ll see a lot of things that look suspiciously like pajamas, but they’re clearly be labeled “not sleepwear” so manufacturers won’t have to comply with flammability standards. Consumer Product Safety Commission rules prohibit that ruse, but I don’t recall seeing anyone busted in recent years.

The law will, of course, still be in effect. Lead will be limited to a stringent 600 parts per million for surface paint for any product for children younger than 12, with the level falling to 100 parts per million by 2011. Metal in children’s jewelry would fall under the same restriction.

No one will have to prove that they’re meeting that, though. Not that testing is necessarily proof in the Peanut Corporation of America world of keep testing until you get the answer you’re looking for.

Few people have argued in recent weeks that some sort of testing delay wasn’t needed. Groups ranging from The Public Citizen to Moms Rising, which pushed hard for the law, agree, and they also agree to common-sense changes such as component testing.

Here’s hoping, though, that the Consumer Product Safety Commission doesn’t change the new implementation date from Feb. 10, 2010, to the next Feb. 30.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Kathleen McDade said:

    I think this is also a good reminder that we as parents need to take responsibility for what we buy for our children. We CAN buy local, buy organic, buy from people we trust, etc. We don’t have to buy Chinese-made toys from Wal-Mart (and if we do, we know we’re taking a risk). It’s also worth thinking about whether we need so many toys.

  • Debra said:

    You are absolutely right about that, Kathleen. I watch the recall lists closely, and the bulk of products being recalled for other than safety reasons are cheap lead-laden junk that the guys don’t need anyway. It’s yet another lesson in “you get what you pay for.”