The Senate on Thursday passed and sent to the White House legislation that bans lead from children's toys and seeks to ensure that chemicals posing possible health problems will not end up on toys and articles that kids chew on and play with.
The Senate, stymied by partisan differences over the energy crisis, put aside those differences momentarily to vote 89-3 for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. The House passed the bill Wednesday by 424-1, a reflection of the national outcry over a rash of recalls last years of toys and children's products contaminated by lead and other dangerous elements.
"We are going to make a big, big difference in the American marketplace," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., a sponsor of the bill.
The administration has objected to parts of the bill, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday that President Bush would sign it. "We are ensuring that the products that come into America are safe for consumers and that the regulating agencies have what they need to do their job," she said.
The bill would impose the toughest lead standards in the world, banning lead beyond minute levels in products for children 12 or younger. Lead paint was a major factor in the recall of 45 million toys and children's items last year, including Cookie Monster toys and Tommy the Tank Engines. Many came from China.
It also bans, either permanently or pending further study, children's goods containing six types of a chemical called phthalates that are widely used to make plastic products softer and more flexible. The chemical industry insisted that phthalates have been used for decades and there is no evidence they pose health risks to humans.
But consumer advocacy groups pointed out that the European Union has banned the six phthalates and that tests on rats have revealed possible reproductive problems and cancer. "Toxic chemicals like lead and phthalates have no business in our children's toys," said U.S. PIRG Public Health Advocate Elizabeth Hitchcock.
Some major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us, have already taken steps to phase out phthalates.
The legislation bolsters the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a 400-staffer agency that took the brunt of criticism last year over the massive recalls and the failure of the government to better test and monitor toy imports before they reach store shelves.
The bill would double the agency's budget, to $136 million by 2014, and give it new authority to oversee testing procedures and impose civil penalties on violators.
Another key provision requires pre-market testing by certified third-party laboratories of children's products for lead and for compliance with safety standards.
American Academy of Pediatrics President Renee R. Jenkins lauded the "extraordinary effort" of Congress. "Safety testing and certification for such hazards as powerful magnets before products are sold, a ban on lead and phthalates and more, will helpfully put an end to the recalls of children's products and the horror stories that lead to those recalls."
The bill also:
- Provides whistle-blower protections to employees who report consumer product hazards. The provision was championed by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
- Requires the CPSC to set up a user-friendly database where consumers, government agencies, child care providers or doctors could report incidents of injury, illness, death or risk related to products.
- Makes more products now covered by voluntary industry standards subject to mandatory standards. With that, more toy hazards, including goods containing small magnets that were included in products recalled last year, would be subject to third-party testing requirements.
- Bans three-wheel all-terrain vehicles and strengthens regulation of other ATVs.
The three senators opposing the bill were Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jon Kyl of Arizona. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, was the lone House member voting against the measure.