Good Toy Safety News: New CPSC Regulations Sharply Reduce
Permissible Lead Content in Children's Products
© Ed Loewenton October 28, 2008
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?
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.
Health 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.
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 lower limit."
"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 manufacturers.
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.
"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 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 of factories.
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 (email@example.com ) and tell me!
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 children's products.
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.
The CPSIA 2008 was enacted in response to the deluge of reports, during 2007, of dangerously toxic toys and other products imported from China.
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 been postponed twice, and are now scheduled to be enforceable beginning February, 2011.
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 excessively cautious.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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