Killing with Kindness, Government-Style

On 10 February 2009 in the United States, all merchandise sold to — or deemed to be marketed to — persons under the age of 12 years will be subject to new and far more stringent regulations regarding lead and phthalate content. As of that date, children’s products must contain no more than 600 parts per million (ppm) of lead, and no more than 0.1% of certain specific phthalates. (This 600 ppm allowable limit for lead is, by the way, the same as that currently in force in Canada, although here it is expressed as 600 mg/kg.) The general lead limit will fall to 300 ppm as of 14 August 2009, although as of that date surface paints containing lead must not exceed 90 ppm.

The flaw in the legislation is not the tightening of the limits, however, but rather in the testing and labeling requirements that have been imposed. There appears to be no consensus or clear legal direction on how to deal with the substantial amount of inventory already in supplier warehouses and on store shelves — all of which may be considered “unproveable” and therefore illegal for U.S. retailers to sell after 10 February. In other words, it’s not that the products have not been tested and found safe — they have — but that prior to a certain date, the products need not have been labeled as such, and so they weren’t. And so, unlabeled, they may now be considered “toxic” by the U.S. government.

We have been paying serious attention to the situation confronting our American fellow toy retailers, and the manufacturers who supply them — and who supply us as well. Not one of us wants to stock or sell a product that is inherently harmful, but this legislation as it stands right now would seem to jeopardize the viability of many small manufacturers and retailers. Here’s a link to one manufacturer’s story; the irony here is that he started this company in order to manufacture toys free of “questionable substances,” toys that are made of natural materials, in small quantities, in North America. Ironic, indeed.

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