Consumer Safety Chief Slams Toy Industry Over Poor Safety

February 20, 2008

The acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission lashed out this week at the toy industry for a lack of safety controls that led to a string of highly publicized recalls, and she warned that the industry is obligated to regulate itself.

“I will not tolerate this industry … not complying with our regulations,” Nancy Nord said in an address at the annual American International Toy Fair expo, which ran for four-days.

Nord said the federal agency, under attack for not acting quickly enough to eliminate hazardous products from store shelves, is adding staff and working more closely with customs officials to stop suspect imports. But she noted that “we all need to take responsibility” to make toys safer, and she said she was “very angry” about recalls involving lead paint because they showed a breakdown in quality control.

Nord’s comments came as the agency works closely with the Toy Industry Association to develop mandatory testing standards after millions of toys were recalled last year because of lead or other hazards. There were 61 toy recalls last year, compared with 40 in 2006, she said.

The trade group on Monday released details of a certification program that mandates uniform testing, auditing of factories and risk assessment analysis of each product.

The program dovetails with pending federal legislation that will authorize the CPSC to create such a program or designate a body to do so.

The final initiative by the industry group and the American National Standards Institute will be released later this week and will be subject to a 30-day public comment review. After the public comment period, a final proposal will be presented to the industry group’s board for final adoption and implementation.

The House bill that aims to overhaul the CPSC and expands its authority overseeing safety of consumer products is awaiting the Senate counterpart, which could be passed in the next few weeks.

The final piece of legislation is expected to mesh the two bills, but many toy retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys “R” Us Inc., the nation’s top two toy sellers, are getting ahead of the legislation by forcing their suppliers to comply with higher standards for lead and other requirements.

Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us announced Friday that toys shipped to their chains starting March 1 would have to meet a tougher standard for lead in surface paint. The companies are also phasing out chemicals found in PVC, or vinyl, that have raised safety concerns in products for infants and young children.

The retailers’ measures are meant to meet or exceed new federal standards. The pending federal legislation does not address phthalates, chemicals that are used in PVC. Joan Lawrence, vice president of standards and regulatory affairs for the Toy Industry Association, said it maintains that phthalates are safe.

A big source of confusion for the industry is that since last year’s recalls, there have been 29 states with pending legislation directly affecting toys. These state bills cover a wide variety of topics from lead to noisy toys and toxic waste, said Rob Herriott, director of international and government affairs for the trade group.

The certification proposal put forth Monday specifies that toy makers must have an accredited laboratory test a random selection of toys. The frequency of testing depends on how the factory is rated regarding quality control.

Certification will be accredited based on the company’s design hazardous analysis, factory audits and product testing. The pending federal legislation doesn’t mandate a certification seal on products, but the industry program will provide for a seal as an option for toy companies, Lawrence said.


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