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Toymakers, stores must act on lead - regulator

Head of Consumer Product Safety Commission says toymakers and retailers must step up to combat lead in toys.

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By David Goldman, CNNMoney.com staff writer

Toymakers play defense
The toy industry is promising new safety measures in light of the wave of recalls in 2007.
The head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Monday that toymakers and retailers need to step up their efforts to eliminate lead in toys.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Monday that toymakers and retailers need to step up their efforts to eliminate lead from toys.

"I will not tolerate this industry or any other not complying with our regulations," said Nancy Nord, the acting chairwoman of CPSC. "This problem must be fixed."

Nord, speaking at the annual American International Toy Fair, called on manufacturers to audit their factories. She also said that retailers must do more to assure that they don't sell tainted toys.

"We will be relentless with recalls," Nord said. "There is no reason why they can't certify that every toy has been designed for safety."

The CPSC has been working with the Toy Industry Association over the past few months to hammer out tougher toy safety standards after more than 25 million toys were recalled last year because of lead paint hazards and defective designs.

The TIA board of directors on Sunday approved a proposal for testing and a safety verification system for toys sold in the United States.

The association said key elements include procedures for design hazard analysis, auditing manufacturing process controls and third-party product safety testing.

"We have to think of all the what-ifs," said Joan Lawrence, TIA's vice president for safety standards and regulatory affairs. "Our guidelines hope to strengthen testing and oversight."

The TIA safety guidelines were originally supposed to be released Dec. 31.

Agency in the hot seat

Consumer groups and lawmakers have criticized the CPSC, which works with the industry to arrange voluntary recalls of hazardous products, for not acting more quickly to get hazardous items off store shelves.

Congress is reportedly working on legislation that would expose companies that sell unsafe products to fines and give the CPSC greater recall authority, including the ability to stop unsafe or unreliable products from being released before they end up on the shelves.

"It's high time that Congress takes a look at this," said Nord, who noted that the CPSC statutes had not been revised since 1990. "I am confident that Congress will come together on a piece of legislation that will modernize our statutes."

Lawrence, the association executive, said she too is eager for Congress to act. "We can't wait for legislation," she said. "We have to improve consumer confidence."

Toy retailers taking initiative

Last Friday, Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) Stores and Toys "R" Us announced their own new, self-imposed mandatory safety checks for toy manufacturers following a wave of recalls that hurt the industry this past holiday season.

The retailers' new safety standards include significant reduction in lead content found in paints used for coating toys, including allowing only 90 ppm (parts per million) for lead in surface coating - versus the current standard of 600 ppm - and prohibiting infant products from containing phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals that have been linked to possible reproductive problems and birth defects.

Toys "R" Us also said it has told its manufacturers to "immediately take steps" to eliminate the use of nickel-cadmium batteries from all items manufactured exclusively for the company.

The retailers said the new guidelines will apply to all manufacturers whose products are shipped to the company after March 1. To top of page

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