The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted to lower limits on lead content in children’s goods, starting next month, while raising concerns about the costs to retailers who may have to dispose of inventory.
Today’s 3-2 vote comes four years after the discovery of lead paint in toys from China that prompted legislation expanding the safety agency’s powers. The commission followed its staff’s recommendation today to lower the maximum acceptable lead content to 100 parts per million, from 300 parts per million.
The new limits will take effect on Aug. 14, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum said.
“The scientific literature is abundant and has established there is no safe limit for lead,” Tenenbaum said. “Technologically feasible does not mean economically feasible.”
The 2008 Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act required the agency to adopt the 100-part-per-million limit for children’s products unless it could establish it wasn’t technologically possible for manufacturers to reach that level. Even some Democrats who voted for the tougher limits said Congress should have given the agency more flexibility to apply the standard only on new products, rather than on items already in store inventories.
The commission’s two Republicans, in comments before the vote, accused its three Democrats of regulatory overkill, adopting a policy that will add costs to businesses without a commensurate safety benefit.
Commissioner Nancy Nord, the senior Republican, said there will be higher costs, fewer choices for consumers and closings of small businesses.
“Just because it’s out there somewhere on the planet doesn’t mean it’s commercially available,” Nord said. “Just because a material is out there for a jet plane doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a toy plane.”
The agency was criticized by lawmakers of both parties as failing to protect consumers in 2007, after toys from China such as Barbie accessories made by El Segundo, California-based Mattel Inc., the world’s largest toymaker, and RC2 Corp.’s Thomas the Tank Engine trains were recalled for containing high levels of lead paint.
‘Banned Hazardous Substances’
The measure shouldn’t result in mass recalls, even though the adoption of the lower lead limits retroactively means products now deemed safe will become “banned hazardous substances” next month, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and three other trade groups told CPSC commissioners in a letter July 11.
“These products are legal today and will most surely not be subject to a government-wide recall on Aug. 14,” the groups wrote. “There is no evidence that these products represent any health risk.”
Medical research shows lead is a neurotoxin that causes permanent, irreversible brain damage, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics fact sheet. Studies suggest any level of lead in the blood impairs mental development in children, including loss of IQ points, creating attention deficits and increased aggression, the group said.
The annual costs to U.S. children and society at large have been estimated at $43.4 billion, the physicians group said.