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December 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 12
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Lead: How Much Is Too Much?

Consumers and Congress Battle for Standards and Fines


“Going to $100 million is for members of Congress to have something to brag about in their election campaigns.” J. Craig Shearman, National Retail Federation
Recalls over the last quarter have activated consumers and spurred legislative efforts demanding better systems to ensure toy safety. But groups haven’t been able to agree.

With House and Senate bills outlining big changes for toy safety, industry organizations, consumer groups and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission [see sidebar] are raising their voices for the “right” reform.
Why the CPSC’s Protest?

Despite proposed increases in agency funding, the CPSC fears that bills under consideration might not increase the “right” resources, according to Director Julie Vallese of the CPSC’s Office of Public Affairs.

“In the Senate legislation, many of the provisions would end up really requiring the agency to beef up resources in its legal department. … [calling for] much more time in litigation rather than in safety legislation. The agency’s looking for inspectors and scientists and not lawyers,” she said, calling the House legislation “much more beneficial.”

“The National Association of Manufacturers and the toy industry … don’t support the most important parts,” Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told TDmonthly Magazine, noting his organization’s support for independent third-party testing, state law enforcement and whistleblower protection.

DISAGREEMENTS ON LIMITS

The PIRG recently posted on its website a Corporate Safety Challenge that advocates banning lead and phthalates.

It’s designed “to put pressure on companies to come clean on what they’re doing — not just trust the Chinese supplier to put the lead out, but to make sure it’s not there,” Mierzwinski said.

But what standard ensures that lead is out?

S. 2045, the CPSC Reform Act of 2007 introduced in the Senate, puts the maximum percent by weight of trace amounts of lead at 200 parts per million for jewelry and 400 ppm for other children’s products, and H.R. 4040, the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act introduced in the House, recommends dropping 600 ppm for any part of a children’s product to 250 ppm after two years of the act’s passage and 100 ppm after four years.

“They’re throwing numbers against the wall,” said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs policy for the National Retail Federation, which wants the CPSC to establish national levels. “There’s plenty of scientific documentation as to what are safe lead levels for children.”

Nonetheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of 40 ppm — the maximum lead amount that naturally occurs in unpolluted soil — in all products for children up to age 12. The limit is based on scientific findings that elevated blood lead levels can cause loss of IQ, reading problems, poor coordination, antisocial behavior and even violence, as presented by Dr. Dana Best, an attending physician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in Congressional testimony.

HIKING FINES

Should such a limit be imposed, what would be the consequences?

Because of difficulty formulating certain materials, “If standards for children's jewelry are set below 600 ppm … some manufacturers have reported they will cease operations altogether,” Executive Director Michael Gale of the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association told TDmonthly.

When considering the penalties for not adhering to limits, H.R. 4040 proposes a civil penalty of up to $10 million for violating the act, and the Senate bill puts the maximum fine at 10 times that amount.
When Should the Public Know of Potential Hazards?

H.R. 4040 recommends changing public disclosure of information, as outlined in Section 6b of the Consumer Product Safety Act, from 30 to 15 days after a manufacturer has been notified by the CPSC.

Rachel Weintraub, director of product safety and senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, argued in testimony before a House committee on Nov. 6 that this proposal “does not go far enough in removing the obstacles which prevent the timely release of information.”

But the CPSC’s Julie Vallese said the current timetable exists to permit investigations of potential hazards. The NRF, likewise, fears that the release of unconfirmed data “could cause unnecessary alarm,” Shearman said. “Companies would stop voluntarily sharing information.”

“Going to $100 million is for members of Congress to have something to brag about in their election campaigns,” J. Craig Shearman, vice president of government affairs public relations for the NRF, told TDmonthly.

The NRF largely supports the House bill, which advocates product tracking labels and would prohibit the sale of recalled items, but it’s concerned over changes in the way companies can share information with the CPSC [see sidebar].

Given these issues and the Congressional fervor for reform, there’s no doubt that legislative changes are inevitable for the toy industry.

“Will they come before the holidays?” Mierzwinski wondered. “That’s the question.”



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Julie L. JonesWriter's Bio: Julie L. Jones has written articles for both newspapers and magazines. Before joining the staff of TDmonthly Magazine, she worked as a communications writer and provided editorial support for a market research company. Read more articles by this author

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