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New Law Turns 4 This Week-- Got The Lead Out of Kids Toys

By Nasima Hossain
Public Health Advocate

Less Lead in Toys Thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Happy 4th Birthday!

The unprecedented recall of 45 million toys and other children’s products in 2007 and continued recalls in 2008 led to the creation and passage of a bipartisan law supported by consumer groups including U.S. PIRG, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union/Consumer Reports, Kids In Danger and Public Citizen. On August 14, 2008, President Bush signed into law the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). 

The new law was an extensive and needed overhaul of the powers and authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The new law marked the first significant strengthening changes since the CPSC’s establishment during the Nixon Administration. Congress not only expanded the agency’s budget, it also gave the CPSC more tools to hold toy, children’s products and other manufacturers accountable. That’s important. As CPSC Commissioner Bob Adler recently testified: “if a product is not food, or a drug, gun, bullet, boat, plane, or a car – we are probably responsible for it.”

In fact, the CPSC regulates over 15,000 kinds of products, from elevators and ATVs to coffee makers and children’s toys and cribs.

Important provisions of the CPSIA substantially reduced allowable limits on toxic substances, including lead, in toys and other children’s products. Children – with their smaller, still developing bodies - are more vulnerable to lead exposure than adults. Worse, babies and toddlers constantly put their hands and toys in their mouths. Exposure to lead causes IQ deficits, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and deficits in vocabulary, fine motor skills, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination. High levels of lead can even cause permanent brain damage and death. Tragically, in 2007, a four year old boy from Minneapolis died of acute lead poisoning after he swallowed a piece of a bracelet. During autopsy, doctors removed the charm from the boy’s stomach to find it contained 99% lead by weight.

You can find out how to avoid lead and other toxic chemicals in toys and kid’s products by downloading Vermont PIRG’s new two-page “VPIRG's Back-To-School Guide for Safer School Supplies.”

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, as modified by 2011 amendments, set the following phase-out schedule for lead in toys and children’s products:  

  • February 2009: Toys and children’s products containing total lead in excess of 600 parts per million (ppm) became banned hazardous substances. After this date, these products cannot be manufactured, imported for sale or sold.
  • August 2009: The maximum allowable amount of lead in paint and surface coatings decreased from 600 ppm to 90 ppm. After this date, these products cannot be manufactured, imported for sale or sold.
  • August 2009: Toys and children’s products containing total lead in excess of 300 ppm became banned hazardous substances. After this date, these products cannot be manufactured, imported for sale or sold.
  • August 14th 2011: Toys and children’s products containing lead in excess of 100 ppm are now a banned hazardous substance. These products cannot be manufactured or imported for sale. However, existing inventories that meet the 300ppm standard can be sold.

Lead is still widely used in other countries and can be found in imported toys and other products. It is used to soften plastic and makes it more flexible. In plastic toys, it stabilizes molecules from heat, but when the plastic is exposed to sunlight, air, and detergents, the chemical bond between the lead and plastics breaks down and forms a dust, which children can inhale. Lead can also be found in jewelry, metal toys and even books and lunch bags.

In 2007 and 2008 iconic toys like Curious George and Thomas the Tank Engine were recalled. While total numbers of toys and jewelry containing lead have declined, in 2011 over 26,000 lapel pins from the popular Build a Bear were recalled and  CPSC also recalled almost 200,000 lead-laden toys in 2011. Also, U.S.PIRG’s Trouble in Toyland 2011 report found a toddler book and a sleep mask that exceeded the current lead standards, by substantial amounts.

Without a doubt, parents and caregivers need the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. It protects children, toddlers and babies -- along with the rest of us. Happy Anniversary, CPSIA! May you continue to protect America’s littlest consumers!

And if you want to learn about safety complaints or file a complaint about any consumer product's safety, let the CPSC and other consumers know by logging in to the CPSC's Saferproducts.gov searchable database. It's just one more benefit of the CPSIA. As CPSC says: "Report your unsafe product on SaferProducts.gov. Tell CPSC. Then others will know."

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