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Regulator warned that lead toy ban was not practical

Posted by: John Tozzi on January 13, 2009

I found this October 2007 article by the Times’ Stephen Labaton while researching the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. (That’s the law that small producers of children’s goods say threatens to put them out of business because of costly lead testing requirements, even on products cotton clothes and other natural materials at low risk of having lead.)

The story is about how Nancy Nord, acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, asked Congress to oppose a bill that would strengthen her agency after product recalls in 2007 made headlines. Nord “asked lawmakers in two letters not to approve the bulk of legislation that would increase the agency’s authority, double its budget and sharply increase its dwindling staff.”

But further down there’s this line: “She was critical, for instance, of a provision to ban lead from all toys, saying it was not practical.” That seems to be the consensus now from makers of toys and other children’s products.

Also, to put some context around regulators’ ability to enforce the law, Labaton writes:

The agency has suffered from a steady decline in its budget and staffing in recent years. Its staff numbers about 420, about half its size in the 1980s. It has only one full-time employee to test toys. And 15 inspectors are assigned to police all imports of consumer products under the agency’s supervision, a marketplace that last year was valued at $614 billion.

(Emphasis mine.) I haven’t gotten a hold of the CPSC yet, so I can’t confirm what staffing levels are like now, or whether they still only have one person testing toys. But it certainly seems like that person is going to be pretty busy…

Can anyone point me to thoughtful policy proposals of a better way to keep kids’ products safe without putting an undue burden on small business owners?

(Also, thanks for all the thoughtful emails and comments below.)

Reader Comments

Jennifer Taggart

January 14, 2009 02:27 AM

The requirements for testing came about because it was clear after 2007's recalls that the lead in paint ban established in 1978 wasn't working - we still had lead showing up in painted products because the law, without testing requirements, wasn't enough.

But testing everything over and over isn't the answer either.

What makes the most sense is to target those components that often have lead, and require testing or certification for those components when used in children's products and can result in an exposure (such as ingestion) - paint and coatings, crystals, polyvinyl chloride plastic (often stabilized with lead), zipper pulls, plastic buttons, metal buttons/closures, accessible snaps, decorative coatings (transfers, etc.) used on clothing, brass buckles, etc.


Darby Charvat

January 14, 2009 09:34 AM

I just checked out the government list of approved labs for third-party testing, and guess where many of them are? Yeah, that's right, China. Ironic, huh?

Heather Flottmnn

January 14, 2009 10:06 AM

logical exemptions on a wide range of natural materials

eliminating redundant testing through acceptance of component testing. if you have stats from your vendors showing components are lead free and manufacturing process can in no way introduce lead then unit testing of final product should not be mandatory

allowing xrf scanning as a reasonable and more cost effective testing tool for small businesses

the law needs to be clearly states - right now it's murky, unclear and small businesses are not getting clear answers so they can comply

Dawn Michelle

January 14, 2009 11:36 AM

Have you signed the Petition yet? In less than a week we've received 1300 signatures! Take a look. Many supporters have submitted a message - there are so many messages agains the CPSIA!
Here is the link:

If you would like to join us in the Class Action Lawsuit go to: You can fill out the form at the bottom of the page. There is no obligation by filling out the form. So far we have received a flood of inquiries! We have to act now if we are going to stop this act and save so many American businesses!

Also, make sure you subscribe to the website ( so you will receive updates as I post them. Also, you can copy anything on the site and put it on your site, links to petitions and the Lawsuit form. Email everyone you know!

Thank you so much for all your support!
Dawn Michelle

linda maupin

January 15, 2009 06:27 AM

Get the government off the backs of native americans and other crafts people who sell clothes and toys

lead is more likely from china..let's boycott china goods if the us is doing this to us!!!!

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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