Stopping Toxic Toys

Written by Christianity and the Confusion on November 3rd, 2007

Strengthening Communities

Stopping Toxic Toys


This summer and fall has been a parent's nightmare as toymakers recalled millions of foreign-made toys tainted by lead and other toxic hazards. In a blockbuster report, Toxic Trade: Globalization and the Safety of the American Consumer, the Campaign for America's Future highlights that this situation is no accident, but deliberate federal policy as corporate interests have taken over the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and gutted consumer protections. The problem is clear:

World imports have increased by 338% since 1974, with imports from China alone increasing nearly 3,900% just since 1985. Yet the budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the government agency responsible for monitoring consumer goods in the United States, is less than half the level it was when it started in 1974… As a result of budget cuts, the CPSC has closed more than 40 field offices and cut its port inspection staff to 15 people nationwide.

With 80% of toys coming into the U.S. from China, having just 15 people nationwide monitoring product safety in our ports is obviously a recipe for poisoning our children.

States Leading on Toxic Toy Safety

Luckily, states have stepped into the breach of federal inaction in recent decades. California is a leader in this area, having enacted Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act as a ballot initiative in November 1986. Groups like California's Center for Environmental Health have used the law to win legal agreements to eliminate lead threats from diaper creams, children's medicines, home water filters, vinyl lunch boxes, and baby bibs. To emphasize the importance of this state action, even if federal law was being enforced (which it isn't), the federal CPSC legally allows 350 times more lead in products than are allowed under California law.

Another key state initiative has been the Toxics in Packaging Act, drafted by the Coalition of Northeastern Governors in 1989 and adopted by 19 states, which requires that concentrations of four toxic metals (including lead) be reduced to less than 100 parts per million — a far lower level than the 600 parts per million allowed by the federal government.

In 2006, the City of San Francisco became the first city to ban the sale, distribution and manufacture of baby products containing any level of bisphenol A and certain levels of phthalates, key toxics often used in childrens' toys. With the state of California following suit in 2007 with the passage of AB 1108 banning most phthalates, many manufacturers removed these toxins from plastic bottles, teething rings and other toys. 

Stopping Federal Preemption

As we've highlighted in the past, the biggest danger to this state action are federal laws that preempt stronger state leadership. As Ed Mierzwinski, Federal Consumer Program Director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups, said in Congressional testimony, the government may trade “passage of a weak federal law for 'federal uniformity' in response to the baseless demands of self-interested industry organizations.”

In current Congressional debates, Mr. Mierzwinski praises language in one proposed law, the Safety Assurance for Every Consumer Product Act, HR 3691, which declares that no federal rule “shall contain a preemption provision” voiding stronger state action unless expressly authorized by statute.

Another federal bill, approved by a U.S. Senate committee, would strengthen state enforcement by giving state attorneys general the authority to enforce its provisions, a way to assure that enforcement of federal child safety laws would not be gutted when corporations buy off the White House.

If new Congressional laws don't undermine their authority, states will continue taking leadership on fighting toxic toys; leadership sadly lacking for decades by federal officials.

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