Retailers trying to keep up with lead regulations

As a franchise owner of an Evans toy store, Trey Allen is keenly aware of a new federal guideline that went into effect Feb. 10 concerning lead and phthalate levels in toys and other merchandise.


"Our home office did a very good job of keeping everyone informed," said Mr. Allen, who operates Learning Express Toys and also is a Columbia County commissioner. "It didn't really affect us that much. Almost every single item we sold was up to spec. Anything that wasn't was dealt with through the vendor."

The new guideline requires importers, manufacturers and retailers -- including thrift stores -- not to sell toys or other merchandise that exceed a lead content of 600 parts per million or a content of 1,000 parts per million of a chemical called phthalate.

The impetus for the change -- part of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act -- involved some past cases in which high levels of lead were found in toys.

High levels of phthalate, which is sometimes used to soften plastics in bath toys or pacifiers, also can damage a child's reproductive system, said Arlene Flecha, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is overseeing the new guidelines.

Ms. Flecha says the new rules should give consumers greater confidence that children's products will be safer, but some say the law isn't outlined clearly and is causing an overflow of demand for product testing on an inadequate number of labs.

"Now, every new product we receive ... every shipment comes with a letter ... that being said, there is still serious confusion (concerning the law)," Mr. Allen said. "From what I hear from all my suppliers, it's putting a serious, serious undue burden on them. There aren't enough labs or facilities in our country (for testing)."

Manufacturers aren't required to list the amount of lead or phthalates on their product box, but Ms. Flecha says "eventually there will be a requirement for labels to identify the products."

"At this point, we are concentrating our efforts on educating the retailers and manufacturers to ensure they understand their obligation," she said.

Ms. Flecha noted how a person can't look at a product and tell whether it's in violation of lead or phthalate content, adding that it would need to be tested. And when it comes to manufacturers testing products, Ms. Flecha said a one-year stay of enforcement was recently granted.

Still, Ms. Flecha says retailers are putting pressure on manufacturers to do the testing now as a way to convince them to carry their product.

At Toys 'R Us, spokeswoman Katie Reczek said her company started taking steps to enhance standards in 2007.

"Among other changes, the company alerted manufacturers that by the end of 2008, juvenile products shipped to the company must be produced without the addition of phthalates, which have raised concerns about infant safety," she stated.

Ms. Flecha said her agency will have inspectors make unannounced visits to stores throughout the country and will randomly conduct tests on products.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 823-3338 or