More than a year after toxic lead paint started scaring parents buying toys for their children, Congress is nearing an overhaul of product safety regulations that some have called the most aggressive overhaul in decades, according to the Chicago Tribune, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the issue.
Manufacturers and importers would have to test toys and other products for babies and kids before they are sold in retail stores, according to the Tribune, and lead would be nearly banned in all products designed for children age 12 and under. Further, the Consumer Product Safety Commission would be given expanded authority, budget and staff, and it would begin to maintain a database of consumer complaints that would be accessible to the public online.
Six types of phthalates, an ingredient in plastic that mimics human hormones and could affect reproductive and developmental health, would also be banned (three of them immediately) in toys and children's products, according to Reuters.
California, Washington and Vermont had already passed laws banning phthalates in toys and children's products, and both Wal-Mart and Toys R Us (and Babies R Us) had announced plans to phase out all products with phthalates. (The European Union has also banned the use of six phthalates.) The state and corporate initiatives are to take effect in 2009 after the Christmas shopping season, as the Washington Post points out. The Post also helpfully points out that Exxon-Mobil led the lobbying effort in the House opposing the phthalates ban, since it manufactures one of the most common phthalates used in children's toys. (Only 5% of the phthalates used in the U.S. are put into children's toys and products, so there will still be a market for the $1.4 billion industry, and plenty of the suspect chemical in American homes.)
While the Tribune says President Bush is expected to pass the bill, the Post says he opposed the phthalates ban but has not indicated whether it would prompt him to veto the popular bill.
Both industry and advocates saw the bill as a sea change in the attention Congress and, soon, U.S. regulators will give to toxic substances found in everyday products. For years, the chemical industry and manufacturers have had the ear of regulators, it seems, as peer-reviewed independent and government studies that questioned the safety of common products were ignored in favor of industry analyses. That appears to be changing.
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