Wal-Mart, Toys 'R' Us unveil new safety rules

Toy sellers want manufacturers to test all toys imported into the U.S. and to significantly cut lead content in coatings.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Wal-Mart Stores and Toys "R" Us announced new mandatory safety checks Friday for its toy manufacturers following a wave of recalls that hurt the industry this past holiday season.

The separate announcements came ahead of next week's scheduled statement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about new stricter toy safety guidelines for both toymakers and retailers.

Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), the world's largest retailer, said it told its suppliers in January that they would have have to meet enhanced safety standards for new and "reordered toys" that will be sold in its stores this year.

The Toys "R" Us guidelines include third-party testing of each batch of toys that's imported into the United States and calling for a significant reduction in lead content found in paints used for coating toys.

Toys "R" Us - the nation's biggest independent toy retailer - said these new stricter guidelines apply to all manufacturers whose products are shipped to the company on or after March 1.

The retailer said that, by the end of 2008, all infant products sold at its namesake and Babies "R" Us stores in the United States are prohibited from containing any phthalates, chemicals that have been linked to possible reproductive problems and birth defects.

Toys "R" Us also set a standard of 90 ppm (parts per million) for lead in surface coating versus what the company said is the current standard of 600 ppm for toys made for it.

Wal-Mart's safety guidelines are similar to those issued by Toys "R" Us.

"There needs to be a national standard for all toy manufacturers on product safety," said Laura Phillips, vice president (toy products) with Wal-Mart. "We provided [manufacturers] new guidelines on lead, phthalates and testing last month to move the industry in the right direction, and toward where legislation is moving."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said toys made by its suppliers cannot have more than 0.1% phthalate content.

"We are requiring independent third-party lab testing of all new and reordered toys for chemical content," O'Brien said.

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.

"We continue to look for ways to raise the bar on product safety," said Toys "R" Us CEO Jerry Storch. "As such, we have made it very clear to manufacturers that we need not wait for the finalization of the much-needed tighter federal standards that are currently pending in welcome legislation before the U.S. Congress."

The CPSC has been working with the Toy Industry Association (TIA) 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 CPSC said Friday that it will discuss these new steps on Feb. 18. The timing of the announcement also coincides with the Annual American International Toy Fair, which kicks off this weekend. To top of page

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