CPSC Exempts Mattel from Toy Testing Requirement

In a move that has some toy makers reeling, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) very quietly gave toy maker giant, Mattel, some leeway in recently mandated testing requirements. You won’t find any press releases on the issue and there is nothing posted on the agency’s Website about the exemption.

Although an array of manufacturers, including toy and clothing makers, must submit samples of products to independent labs for safety tests, Mattel is exempt, reports the Associated Press (AP). Of note, Mattel is the largest U.S. toy maker, said the AP.

The law involved—the CPSIA—was passed by Congress last year and followed an unprecedented number of toy recalls, many of which were over lead, and six of which involved toys made by both Mattel Inc. and Fisher-Price, a Mattel subsidiary, said the AP. No small issue, by the way. As the AP reminds us, those six recalls—which took place in 2007, alone—involved over two million toys.

The new law set stringent mandates on lead, lead paint, and phthalate levels and requires third-party testing for all manufacturers that produce products meant for children age 12 and younger, reported the AP. “It’s really ironic that the company that was a principal source of the problem” now gets favorable government treatment, said Center for Environmental Health executive director, Michael Green, quoted the AP.

Small businesses have long been fighting to have the chemical and toxin bans, created to protect America’s children, overturned. While consumer groups and environmentalists are pushing for the phthalate and lead bans, small businesses fought hard to keep them off the books, said the LA Times, previously. Industry claimed that “Compliance with these new lead content requirements will be a practical impossibility for thousands of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and resellers,” according to a letter from the National Association of Manufacturers.

Now, it seems, said Green, that Mattel—which lobbied heavily for an exception under the CPSIA, spending $1 million on federal lobbying in 2007, alone—was able to use its weight to gain a competitive edge, reported the AP, which noted that the testing from which Mattel is exempt could run from the hundreds into the thousands of dollars, per product. According to the AP, the CPSC approved seven Mattel’s labs as “firewalled third-party laboratories” under an allowable CPSIA exception. Although Mattel is the first to receive the designation, other unnamed companies have filed for similar exemptions.

Of interest, Mattel’s “firewalled” labs are located in Mexico, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and California. China is of particular interest because we have long been writing about the myriad problems associated with imports entering the United States from China. In recent years, imports from China have been at the center of safety worries in the United States and other countries and have impacted everything from medications, to children’s toys, to consumer products.

We have also long been reporting that despite federal lead standards and that many consider lead poisoning to be one of the most important chronic environmental illnesses affecting children today, toys—many imported from China—continue to be made with lead contents that exceed federal standards and could pose serious, sometimes fatal, health concerns. In June, Mattel agreed to a $2.3 million civil penalty payout for violating the lead paint ban, said the AP.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson argued that Mattel was able to prove its side, saying, among other things, that because it owns facilities outside of the country—for instance, its production site in China—its safety testing can be conducted externally.

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