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Wal-Mart, other stores, set toy safety standards

The nation's biggest toy sellers are requiring their suppliers to meet new standards that limit the amount of lead and other metals and compounds in toys.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The nation's biggest toy sellers are requiring their suppliers to meet new standards that limit the amount of lead and other metals and compounds in toys and children's products, getting ahead of federal legislation.

The House and Senate have passed versions of a wide-ranging bill to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The bill contains language that would toughen current standards for products used by children.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said Wednesday that the nation's largest retailer crafted its requirements so that they meet or exceed standards in the working legislation. The bill has not yet moved to a conference committee, where the House and Senate would work out differences between versions of the bill.

"We gave these guidelines to these suppliers back in January and February when making new orders for this fall," O'Brien said. Wal-Mart, the top toy seller in the U.S., said products meeting the new standards will be on the shelves for the holiday shopping season.

Wayne, N.J.-based Toys "R" Us Inc. also imposed tougher standards for its manufacturers for orders placed around the start of the year. A spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Target Corp., the nation's No. 2 discounter, said the company distributed new specs for store-branded products in April and that after Jan. 1, only products meeting updated standards will be on the shelves.

"Some may be available now," Target spokeswoman Amy Von Walter said. "We are already making changes. There will be no exceptions after Jan. 1." Target is also phasing out use of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.

Millions of toys were recalled last year over concerns about lead and other hazards, some linked to medical and developmental problems in children.

Bentonville-based Wal-Mart told its suppliers to reduce the amount of phthalates, a chemical used to soften plastics. The updated Wal-Mart requirement matches rules in California, standards Toys "R" Us and Target say they will also meet. The California rules limit phthalates to 0.1 percent.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, contains an amendment that would ban phthalates in products for infants and young children. The House version does not address the chemical. Pryor said Wednesday that there is a chance that phthalates could wind up excluded from the final version.

The bill would more than double funding for the CPSC to $156 million in fiscal 2015, a move opposed by the Bush administration. But Pryor's office said the White House has not threatened a veto.

Pryor was chairing a hearing Wednesday on phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical most closely associated with hard plastic water bottles, that is now getting a look for possible health effects.

"The problem with these two chemicals is that they are basically ubiquitous," Pryor said. "I want to get rid of all the rhetoric and get down to the science."

The Toy Industry of America maintains that there is no evidence that phthalates in toys have caused any harm.

Wal-Mart also told suppliers to make products that are more easily traced and the company is doing more testing.