Tough Toy Safety Bill in Washington State Has Manufacturers Worried

Washington state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a toy safety bill setting the toughest restrictions in the nation on the lead content of children’s products.  If passed, the bill would reduce the allowable level of lead in toys and other goods to 90 parts per million—possibly as low as 40 parts per million, the recommended limit of the American Academy of Pediatrics—far below the current federal standard of 600 parts per million. The new restrictions would take effect July 2009.  The bill also sets tough limits on cadmium, a metal used in paints and plastics and on plastic-softening chemicals called phthalates linked to childhood developmental problems.  The state accounts for about 2% of total US toy sales, which last year equaled $23.5 billion in revenues.

The move has some in the toy industry concerned and some small toy makers are planning to stop selling in the state if, as they expect, Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire signs the bill saying the cost of certifying their products as safe under the law would be prohibitive.  Representatives of Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc., met with Gregoire March 17 over Mattel’s concerns that half of the products made by its Fisher-Price unit would be barred from the state if the law is adopted.  Hasbro confirmed a meeting with the governor.  The Toy Industry Association (TIA) represents over 75 companies and said it wouldn’t make economical sense for toy makers to ship products to the state if the bill becomes law.

Millions of toys were recalled last year with 61 recalls.  Of those, over six million toys were recalled due to lead; the highest number ever due to product defects.  The dangers were generally attributed to Chinese manufacturers hired by the U.S. companies.  Also, last week, the Reebok unit of Adidas paid a $1 million penalty as part of a settlement with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for distributing a lead-tainted charm bracelet swallowed by a four-year-old boy who died of lead poisoning.

Congress is considering new federal lead limits and other toy-safety standards but sponsors of bills in 29 state legislatures do not want to wait; Illinois and Michigan enacted new lead laws and a phthalates ban is due to take effect in California next year.  The TIA says it hired lobbyists to battle legislative proposals in 10 states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Of the laws under consideration at the state level, 24 regulate lead; 18, phthalates; 10, mercury, and 17, a variety of other toxins.  Toy makers have been reluctant to reveal how many of their products would fail to meet the Washington bill’s standards, but according to lab tests sponsored by over two dozen consumer groups, 24.8% of the 1,200 randomly selected toys sold in the US contained lead quantities exceeding the limit in the Washington bill, and 2.9% had cadmium above the limits.  Last month, the Washington Toxics Coalition, an environmental advocacy group in Seattle, said it commissioned a test of 20 toys for phthalates and found that nine contained levels exceeding the Washington limit, which has been in effect in the European Union since 2005.

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