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Summer of the Toy Recalls Spurs Congress to Action

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Toy recall after toy recall this past summer has Congress looking for ways to fix the nation’s broken consumer product safety system. At a hearing in the US Senate yesterday, one Senator charged that a lack of funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) had allowed the agency to “wither on the vine”. And elsewhere on Capitol Hill, other lawmakers were working to enact a near-total ban on lead in products marketed for children.

Ironically, yesterday’s Senate hearing began just minutes after the CPSC announced yet another batch of recalls for more than 500,000 defective toys and other items that contained illegal levels of lead. It also came at the end of what CPSC Acting Chairperson Nancy Nord called “the summer of the recall”, as million of Chinese made toys have been recalled for lead paint and other hazards. The recalls have hit some of the biggest and most trusted toy makers in the country. This summer, Mattel issued three separate recalls for toys that contained hazardous lead paint and dangerous magnets. Meanwhile, the RC2 Corporation had to twice recall lead painted Thomas the Tank Engine Toys, and just yesterday Disney recalled thousands of Baby Einstein blocks for the same reason. Dozens of smaller companies have recalled everything from children’s jewelry, key chains, notebooks, water bottles and flashlights – all made in China – due to dangerous levels of lead.

Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill) called for more funding for the CPSC and said he was in favor of legislation that would increase both its budget and staff. “Let’s face it — our consumer product safety system is busted and in need of major reform,” Durbin said. Durbin has been a frequent critic of the CPSC, and recently took the agency to task for waiting too long to recall defective Simplicity and Graco cribs that killed three children.

Nord said she agreed with many of the reforms proposed for the CPSC, but stopped short of directly asking for money. That disturbed one Senator, who asked if Nord had been directed by the White House to refrain from requesting more funding. Nord claimed that she had not been given any such instructions.

Meanwhile, several other lawmakers were working to ban any and all lead in children’s products. Even small amounts of lead can cause brain damage and other problems if it is ingested by small children. Currently, lead can be present in children’s toys at levels no higher than 600 parts per million, but consumer advocates say that regulation is outdated. Earlier this week, aseveral members of Congress introduced legislation in both the House and Senate to that would ban lead from children’s products.

“Lead in children’s products is dangerous and unnecessary,” said California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “This is the kind of simple, common-sense action the Consumer Product Safety Commission should have taken years ago.”

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