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CPSC Warns Toy Industry on Safety

Feb 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The toy industry, beset by a record number of toy recalls last year, has been put on notice.  Nancy Nord, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) acting chair spoke Monday at the annual American International Toy Fair, lashing out at the toy industry and citing a lack of safety controls that led to last year’s unprecedented and highly publicized toy recalls.  Warning that the toy industry has the obligation to regulate itself Nord said, "I will not tolerate this industry...not complying with our regulations.”  Nord added that the CPSC—which has been harshly criticized for not acting quickly enough to eliminate hazardous products from store shelves and for being influenced by the companies it regulates—is adding staff and working more closely with customs. "We all need to take responsibility" to make toys safer, she said, adding that she was "very angry" about toy recalls involving lead paint, as this was indicative quality control breakdown.

While the agency is now working with the Toy Industry Association to develop mandatory testing standards, millions of toys were recalled last year with 61 recalls, up over 20 from the prior year.  Of those, over six million toys were recalled due to lead; the highest number ever due to product defects.  Also, other potentially dangerous toys remained in stores and were sold without warning labels of possible choking hazards several times last year.

The Toy Industry Association released plans for a certification program mandating uniform testing, factory auditing, and risk assessment analysis of each product.  The proposal specifies toy makers must have an accredited laboratory test a random toy selection with frequency dependent on the factory’s quality control rates.  Pending legislation doesn't mandate a certification seal on products, but the program will provide for a seal as an option for toy companies.  Pending federal legislation will authorize the CPSC to create such a program or designate a body to do so.  The final plan by the Toy Industry Association and the American National Standards Institute is subject to a 30-day public comment review.  Following review, a final proposal will be presented to the industry group's board for adoption and implementation.  A pending House bill would overhaul the CPSC, expanding its oversight and is awaiting the Senate counterpart.  The final piece of legislation is expected to unite both bills.  Twenty-nine states also have pending legislation covering a wide variety of issues from lead to noise to toxic waste, said Rob Herriott, director of international and government affairs for the trade group.  

Some retailers—including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R" Us Inc.—are moving in advance of the legislation to meet or exceed the new standards by forcing suppliers to comply with higher mandates and announced that toys shipped to their chains effective March 1 must meet a tougher criterion for lead in surface paint.  The companies are phasing out chemicals found in PVC—vinyl—that have raised safety concerns; however, pending federal legislation does not address phthalates, chemicals used in PVC.  According to Joan Lawrence, vice president of standards and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association, phthalates are deemed safe.  Many others say the chemical compound, with its toxic leaching tendencies, is dangerous.


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