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U.S. rejects delay in limiting lead in sales of children's

Manufacturers say the standard, which takes effect Tuesday, may cost thousands of jobs.

February 07, 2009|Alana Semuels

The battle over a product safety law escalated Friday, when federal regulators turned down a request by manufacturers to postpone Tuesday's deadline requiring them to stop selling goods that contain unsafe levels of lead.

Manufacturers responded by warning that thousands of jobs could be lost if the law was not changed.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, passed by Congress last year after a spate of highly publicized toy recalls, makes it illegal to sell children's products containing more than 600 parts per million of lead starting Tuesday.

The National Assn. of Manufacturers had asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency charged with enforcing the law, to delay the effective date at least six months. The two commissioners said Friday that they had voted down that request, but they would effectively exempt companies that make, import, distribute or sell:

* Children's products made from natural materials such as wood, cotton and wool, or certain metals or alloys

* Any "ordinary" children's books printed after 1985

* Dyed or undyed textiles (not including leather, vinyl or PVC) and nonmetallic thread and trim

The commission said last week that it would not require manufacturers to have their products tested for lead by a third party for at least a year. Though many said that gave them the reprieve they needed, others said those changes and the enforcement rules announced Friday don't go far enough.

"It still doesn't stop attorney generals from independently taking their own action and filing suit," said Ed Krenik, senior principal at lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents some members of a National Assn. of Manufacturers task force about the law. "It makes it clear that if there is going to be relief, it will come from Congress."

Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) introduced a bill Thursday that would authorize the commission to postpone the enactment of the law, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced an amendment to the economic stimulus package that would alter the product safety law.

If the measures do not pass, the commission may have its hands full.

Even without enforcing the law for books, undyed textiles and products made of natural materials, the commission will probably find many items on store shelves that violate the law, said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, Baltimore's commissioner of health.

In an effort to make retailers comply with a Maryland law, his office has been going to stores and testing children's products for lead. It often finds jewelry and toys that exceed the safety standard, he said.

On Thursday, the agency issued notices about four jewelry products that exceeded the limit. One contained 87,800 ppm and another 571,000 ppm, nearly 1,000 times the standard set by the consumer law.


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