Alarmed by a year of recalls involving millions of tainted toys, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to ban lead and other dangerous chemicals from items such as jewelry and rubber ducks that could end up in the mouths of children.
The legislation would also toughen rules for testing children’s products and give more muscle to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was criticized last year for its feeble handling of a flood of goods from China deemed hazardous to children.
“It should be a given that toys are not dangerous,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in welcoming legislation that was praised by lawmakers and consumer groups as one of the most far-reaching product safety bills in decades.
With the bill, said Representative Joe Barton of Texas, top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “our children’s toys will be tested in the laboratory before they are tested by our children on the living room floors of America.”
The bill, a product of House-Senate negotiations, would impose the toughest lead standards in the world, banning lead beyond minute levels in products for children 12 or younger.
It would also ban children’s products, either permanently or pending study, containing six types of phthalates — chemicals found in plastics and suspected of posing health risks.
The 424-1 vote sends the measure to the Senate, which could approve it before Congress leaves for its recess at the end of this week. The White House has voiced opposition to parts of the legislation, but has not threatened a veto.
The bill would require third-party testing for many children’s products before they are marketed, a key change in monitoring practices following a year in which 45 million toys and children’s products were recalled, including 30 million from China.
“Third-party testing is a centerpiece of the new law” and a victory for consumers, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director of US PIRG, a grass-roots environmental organization.
The bill would double the budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to US$136 million by 2014 and give it new authority to monitor testing procedures and impose civil penalties on violators.
The commission was founded in 1973 with a staff of about 800. It now employs about half that number, while imports are vastly increased.
It would also boost whistle-blower protections to encourage people to report hazards to the commission and would direct the agency to set up a database where consumers, government agencies, child care providers or doctors could report incidents of injury, illness, death or risk related to products.
One of the more controversial provisions is the ban on six types of phthalates. They are used to make toys, such as rubber ducks and bath books, soft and flexible. Tests on rats have found links to possible reproductive system problems for males and the onset of early puberty for females, and the EU has banned the six phthalates.
The Breast Cancer Fund noted that when children put these toys in their mouths, phthalates can easily leach from toy to child.