New guidelines spark massive toy bans

February 10, 2009 8:55:37 AM PST
If you're going toy shopping, the store shelves may look a little different. New federal guidelines designed to protect kids from lead and other dangerous chemicals are taking effect on Tuesday.

Millions of toys likely fall under this ban in which any toy containing specific-banned toxic manufacturing chemicals must be off the shelves, nationwide. The new law gives state attorneys the authority to enforce the Consumer Product Safety laws and to remove dangerous products from stores.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 bans the sale of toys and other products that contain lead and phthalates - chemicals used to soften plastics - which can interfere with reproductive hormones.

Phthalates can be absorbed through the mouth or skin and are commonly found in products for children under three. These include teethers, bath toys, books, bibs, dolls and plastic figures. The law also bans lead in products for children 12 and younger.

Congress passed this federal safety act after recalls of 20 million toys tainted with lead, much of which was manufactured in China. Initially, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was going to let toys with the banned chemicals remain on shelves, if they were made before the ban took effect -- a federal judge's ruling has now eliminated that loophole. Manufacturers and importers now have to test and certify that toys have passed U.S. safety standards before they're sold.

The safety improvement act has set up some harsh punishment:

  • Fines of up to $100,000 per violation;
  • $1.85 to $15 million dollars for repeated violations;
  • Up to five years in prison for knowingly violating the law.

    Small businesses have also complained that the testing requirements are burdensome. One argument from toymakers and their industry trade groups is that this law has gone into effect too quickly, leaving them with hundreds of millions dollars worth of toys manufactured months in advance of sales.

    Contra Costa County Health Services is holding free tests of toys Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon at Monument Community Partnership, 1760 Clayton Road in Concord.