Good Toy Safety News: New CPSC Regulations Sharply Reduce
Permissible Lead Content in Children's Products
Update: March, 2010 : Politics, hysteria,
No more small toy companies? No more "Made in USA"?
July, 2010: What you can do; read
the regs and make a formal comment
© Ed Loewenton October 28, 2008
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Original article in this series (Aug. 15, 2007)
How to inspect toys for safety
New, more stringent standards governing permissible lead content in
children's products have been published by the Consumer Products Safety
Commission (CPSC). They take effect in stages, on February 10, 2009, August 14,
2009, and August 14, 2011.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act
of 2008, section 101, passed by Congress in August, permissible lead in paint or other coatings will be reduced
from the current 600 parts per million (ppm) to 90ppm on August 10, 2009.
Permissible total lead content in
the product - coating plus substrate (underlying material or body of the product or part)
- will be
reduced from no defined limit at present to 600 ppm by February 10, 2009, 300 ppm on
August 14, 2009, and 100 ppm on August 14, 2011.
A significant change is that the new limits apply to
children ages 12 and younger, an increase in the age limit which will protect
many more children.
Finally, lead-free coatings may no longer be considered a barrier
making lead content in the substrate inaccessible.
But there will be unintended consequences. Many smaller toy
manufacturers, especially home-based craft producers, may be forced out of
business by the cost of compliance. Larger companies based overseas, who export
to the USA, and also American importers, have already reduced the size of their
catalogs because of the anticipated cost of testing so many products. The law,
passed in 2008, is still not enforceable regulation, while the various interests
campaign to have their sides of the issue recognized.
In this article:
*Changes in the law
*How you can make safer toy selections
*What we plan to do
*Is China the only culprit? What are they doing about the problem?
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At present, products with paint or coatings containing
more 600 ppm are banned from commerce. What is less well known that this
rule has applied to coatings only. Until now, it has been legal to sell
products with lead in the substrate, as long as it was covered by paint or
other coating! This has been a subject of hot debate for some time, with
consumer advocates on one side and toy industry lobbyists on the other. I had
an opportunity to voice this criticism to a group of senior CPSC
representatives at Toy Fair in February of this year.
professional and consumer advocates have objected that 600 ppm is far too lax a
standard, and ignores the danger of a lead-containing substrate being exposed
when the coating is breached by wear, damage, or chewing.
This longstanding weak regulation should be seen in the
context of the fact that the effects of lead in the body are cumulative.
Measures of the content of this nerve toxin in a product is meaningless without knowing
how much of it is ingested by whoever handles it. Even a tiny amount may be
harmful over an extended period to a young child who handles a lead-containing
product and then eats without hand-washing, or who mouths or chews the product. Extensive
research has failed to produce a formula to translate concentration of
lead in a toy to the medically meaningful statistic, the concentration of lead in a child's bloodstream. An in-depth
discussion of this topic may be read at
The new regulations, as detailed above, are an effective and aggressive effort to address
these regulatory shortcomings. However, there are potential loopholes
in these new regulations:
The final standard of 100 ppm in total product content takes effect "...unless
the Commission determines that it is not technologically feasible to have this
"Some children’s products may be exempted or excused from these
new lead limits if a component part containing lead is inaccessible. The
Commission will provide guidance by rule on what component parts are
inaccessible within a year." What "inaccessible"
and "technologically feasible" eventually mean one can only guess.
"The Commission will also evaluate whether certain
electronic devices, including devices that contain batteries, must comply with
the lead limit." This provision seems more
reasonable. High-tech toys require electronics, which require solder,
which require at least some lead.
The new standards will be retroactive,
governing products already in the distribution pipeline - maybe.
This means that products violating the new standards as of the date of
each change - February and August 2008, August 2009 - are banned
from sale and must be destroyed, whether they are in manufacturers' or
distributors' warehouses or on store shelves. However, retroactivity
is based on CPSC's chief counsel's interpretation of the law as passed by
Congress, and is likely to be
subject to lobbying pressure and possibly lawsuits from retailers and the major toy
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Making Safer Choices; What's happening in China? Are shoppers still
running away from Chinese toys? Are you?
In March. 2008, we published a detailed article
on evaluating toys for safety hazards.
You can learn to detect mechanical and age-recommendation hazards, return
unsuitable products for refund, and perhaps report the offending toy. The
only change in our advice is that as of August 2009, lead test swabs will no
longer be useful for detecting legal violations of lead limits.
However, they will still be very useful for detecting lead in toys that
have large concentrations of the toxin. Most of the deliberate
violations - lead-pigmented paint, lead-stabilized PVC - are easily
detected with swabs used as we suggest. Read
the article for details.
"Child-safe" paints are safe for
occasional mouth contact. However, no paint is really safe enough to eat!
If your child is still teething or trying to eat every object in the
house, simple unfinished wood or soft toys are better choices.
The other big change is that in 2008 there
have been only 14 toy recalls because of lead hazard, and only 10 were
made in China. Since last year, China has forced many small toys
manfucturers out of business, and has started conducting their own testing
programs. There were not enough labs at first, so many U.S. importers
found they could not get timely delivery of toys awaiting testing before
being released for shipments for Christmas 2007.
Additionally, some manufacturer-importers have
started their own testing program. Guidecraft (kitchens,
blocks) has what
we consider an excellent and scientifically valid program to guarantee the
safety of the paint finishes on their imports. Kettler and one of our
Pedal Car suppliers use a polyester powder coat (not associated with lead
pigments in commercially available formulations)
rather than paint, and we have explicit statements from all our other
vendors that they are engaging in enhanced testing and on-site inspection
The great irony - the last word and the
last laugh - is that the new testing requirements, along with the drop
in the value of the dollar, higher wage rates in the new affluent China,
and the consumer flight to American-made toys, has increased the cost of
importing from China. Chinese toys are no longer the easy money for
importers or the great engine of the Chinese economy they once were.
Last year we asked: Would you spend more for an
American-made toy if you could buy a Chinese-made toy that was exactly as
well-made and as safe? You overwhelmingly answered "Yes!"
Do you still feel that way?
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org ) and tell me!
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What you can do; What we are doing
1) You can learn
how to inspect your children's toys for all hazards except chemical. You
can also stop buying toys primarily because they are cheap! Nearly all lead
hazard recalls are for less expensive mass-market toys. Mechanical
hazards are often design errors, which anyone can make, but lead hazard is
almost alway due to cost-cutting because of price pressure.
2) Speaking of price cutting, the retroactive nature of
the new regulation is likely to cause the distribution chain to try to clear
the shelves of non-compliant product between Christmas and February 10 with
discount sales. Watch out for sell-offs of cheap imported toys between now and
then. We are going to watch out for it, too.
3) Contact your Congressional delegation and
tell them you support the strongest interpretation and enforcement of the new
ruling under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.
Turnertoys has always performed mechanical inspection
and play-testing for safety, durability, and play value on everything we sell.
Since last Fall, Turnertoys has been 1) limiting our use of Chinese made
toys, 2) Using swab-type tests to sample our inventory for lead and
cadmium hazard, 3) applying pressure on our suppliers to use
statistically valid methods of inspection and testing.
We are considering renting an X-ray testing device for
lab-quality detection of chemical hazards, although in the current economic
environment, we may not be able to afford it. You can help, of course, by
doing your holiday toy buying at Turnertoys!
March, 2010: The current status of CPSIA 2008: Politics, economics,
and unintended consequences.
Toy Safety, Politics, and Unintended Consequences - & what you can do
In August, 2008, Congress enacted into law the CPSIA
2008 (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008). It mandated
radical reductions in permitted levels of lead and phthalates in toys and other
children's product, to be phased in over two years. The consumer Products
Safety Commission (CPSC) was tasked with construction of a regulatory framework
to enforce the new law, which effectively bans the use of lead and phthalates in
One of the notable
aspects of the law is the requirement for third-party testing of every batch of
every product, and of each component of each product in the case of complex
constructions such as bicycles. Each product is supposed to have a
permanent label identifying manufacturer and batch date. Read more at
The CPSIA 2008 was enacted in response to the deluge of
reports, during 2007, of dangerously toxic toys and other products imported from
It soon became clear that the
testing requirements of the law would have a devastating economic impact on
smaller toy producers because of the costs associated with testing and labeling.
Since there are so few testing laboratories accredited under the new law, there
might be a long wait for testing, and test service will be a seller's market,
with the possibility of price gouging.
Larger or mid-size American manufacturers, with
existing test lab contracts or relationships (such as our suppliers Lindenwood
(alphabet blocks), Guillows (balsa planes), Little Colorado (furniture), and
Maple Landmark (Trains, puzzles) benefit from volume pricing. Nonetheless,
the costs would be considerable, and in fact is motivating them to reduce the
size of their catalogs.
Since most American toy makers who actually manufacture
in the U.S. are much smaller businesses, they are not really able to sustain
such expenses, and are faced with going out of business.
Someone calculated that if the law were in force today, there would
be an annual requirement of tens of millions of individual tests. Obviously,
this is not only economically ruinous, but also logistically impossible.
Since late 2008, much has happened politically
regarding the CPSIA 2008. There has been intensive lobbying by the affected
parties, from the large, well-financed importers of (mostly) Chinese toys, to tiny
one-person home-based handcrafted toy businesses. One result has been that the testing and labeling requirements have
twice, and are now scheduled to be enforceable beginning February,
Some progress has made in persuading the CPSC to allow
common-sense exemptions of minimally processed natural materials such as wood,
wool, cotton, and paper. And there is the awareness that most toy toxicity
hazards have been found in imported toys, virtually none in those made in the
U.S. Further, a discussion has been opened regarding the CPSIA's age limits -
the act regulates products used by kids up to 12 years - which are seen as
However, there are also efforts to sneak in exemptions
which I would regard as ill-advised. The association which represents
vending machine businesses want to get the little beads used in cheap
vending-machine jewelry exempted, because the beads are so small. And yet this
very kind of product has already been involved in recalls.
What we have here is certainly a case of unintelligent and
uninformed legislation as a reaction to a wave of public hysteria in 2007.
I certainly do believe that lead should be eliminated from children's products,
and that phtalates, a much less acutely toxic material found in PVC, or Vinyl
plastics, should not be used in products for children under 12 months, or
perhaps 36 months. But testing of the end product is not looking like the
best way to achieve these aims. For one thing, much or most of the toxins that
will affect the child throughout the lifespan probably make their appearance
through ingestion by pregnant women, so controlling them in toys is only one
part of the effort.
Meanwhile, only a few companies are testing.
Ironically, toys coming from China are mostly being tested since, after the
scandals of 2007, the Chinese
government promptly required it, and also closed many small businesses
with sloppy manufacturing processes. As I mentioned, some larger U.S.-based
producers are testing, because they have always done so.
And hazards originating in American-made products are not
unknown. Recently, the New York Times reported that the largest U.S. producer of
tomato products has been accused of producing dangerously contaminated products,
and bribing buyers to ignore the problems
The ironic result of this law is that the
variety of some of the best children's products is already sharply reduced.
Habermaass, the German company which make the Haba block sets and puzzles we
carry, has eliminated over one thousand products from their Haba-USA catalog
this year, even though they have always actively tested under European
regulations and make some of the best and safest toys. Everybody' favorite
Kettler pedal go-cart models will no longer be available in the United States,
because even though they are laboratory certified for the very strict European
Union regulations, they would still have to be tested again under the new CPSIA
law, and this would make them too expensive to sell here.
The final irony is that, with full implementation of
CPSIA as originally written, many of the wholesome, high quality toys and kids'
products made by the smallest American producers will disappear from the market.
Many may even now be hard to find on store shelves, since some retailers are
taking it upon themselves to enforce the requirements that the CPSC has put on
hold ofr another year.
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HERE'S WHAT YOU CAN DO
So we are still waiting for enforcement of the
reduced lead requirements. In the meantime, parents and others who are
responsible for children's welfare can take some easy steps to reduce risk from
the substances regulated by CPSIA 2008, as well as other kinds of hazards that
may be present. Read my article on this at
You can also adopt a more educated and reasoned
response to the hazards of lead and phthalates. Lead is an acute poison, and a
developmental toxin for children at any level of concentration. By
the way, electrical and computer cord insulation contains lead.
Read more at www.turnertoys.com/pvc3Stabilizers.htm
There is no excuse for exposing children to lead. Yet I
and my peers grew up, in the '40's, '50's, and '60's, in a lead-saturated
environment, with little apparent harm.
The danger presented by phthalates is much less
obvious. Whereas lead has largely been eliminated from the environment in recent
decades, the prevalence of phthalates has just increased. These chemicals can be
found in everyone's bloodstream. There has been no clearly linked epidemic of
consequences. Phthalates are anti-androgenic, and known to disrupt male
reproductive system devlopment in experimental rodents. There are no
comparable direct findings in humans, although there have been some inconclusive
preliminary findings regarding cognitive development and behavior.
Your children will be safe and grow up healthy if you
just keep potential sources of lead out of their daily environment until they
are old enough to learn how to use such materials safely when absolutely
necessary. Phthalates are a much lesser danger; keeping potential sources out of
their hands up to age 3, and teaching them to reduce ingestion through smart
product choice, should provide a wide
marging of safety.
If you have the time and inclination, you might also
want to learn more about the new CPSC regulations, and perhaps even
submit a comment during the comment review process. You can also read
the small, made-in-USA toymakers' and independent retailers' side of
this issue at http://groups.google.com/group/handmade-toys/topics
You may need to guest-register to read it.
Publicly Available Consumer Complaint Database
Comment deadline July 23, 2010
Testing Rules for Component Parts --
Comment deadline August 3, 2010
Testing and Labeling Pertaining to Product Certification (15 Month Rule)
Comment deadline August 3, 2010
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