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Consumer panel's decision on lead testing law is overturned

Manufacturers and retailers cannot sell children's products containing phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic, after Tuesday, a federal judge rules.

February 06, 2009|Alana Semuels

Environmentalists are battling small businesses to preserve a law that would pull children's products that may contain lead and chemicals from shelves by next week.

The environmentalists won a round Thursday when a federal judge overturned a decision by a government commission and said manufacturers and retailers could not sell children's items containing phthalates, which are chemicals used to soften plastic, after Tuesday.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, adopted last year, bans use of phthalates in children's products. But the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which enforces the act, said retailers could sell items containing phthalates if they were manufactured before Tuesday.

The National Resources Defense Council and consumer group Public Citizen had sued to reverse the commission's decision. Without the ruling, "a consumer going to the store to buy a teething ring or any other children's product would have no idea if it contains phthalates or not," said Aaron Colangelo, senior attorney at the council.

Small businesses are trying to buy time by asking the commission to postpone the effective date of the law, especially the portion of it that makes it illegal to sell any products that contain more than 600 parts per million of lead.

"Compliance with these new lead content requirements will be a practical impossibility for thousands of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and resellers," read a letter from the National Assn. of Manufacturers asking for the effective date of law to be postponed.

Colangelo said that any movement by the commission to postpone the rules would violate the law and would "perpetuate harm through children's exposure to lead."

But business groups aren't surrendering. On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and five other Republican senators introduced an amendment to the economic stimulus bill that would make changes to the consumer product safety act. It would delay the regulations by six months, clarify rules about component testing, exempt resellers from the act, prevent retroactive enforcement of the act and require the commission to provide small businesses with a compliance guide.

The bill is being backed by small business groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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