Product Safety Law Gets the Lead (and Other Things) Out

by Katie Greenhaw, 8/8/2013

Thanks to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), toys and other children’s products are safer. Five years ago, the critical law set strict standards to protect children from exposure to lead and other harmful chemicals. These standards are crucial to ensuring that children’s products are safe and free of dangerous toxins.

Congress enacted the CPSIA in 2008 after the recall of millions of toys and other products. In the decade leading up to the CPSIA, the U.S. saw a 101 percent increase in imports of consumer products. In 2006 and 2007, a rash of lead-contaminated toys and jewelry designed for children plagued the marketplace. Imported products made in China accounted for a majority of the recalls.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) announced 109 lead-related recalls in 2007, totaling more than 17 million individual products. Decades of research have shown that ingestion of lead, even at extremely low levels, can cause severe developmental delays in children, as well as myriad other health problems.

Despite these risks, there was no comprehensive lead limit for children’s products until the passage of the CPSIA. Previously, CPSC only limited lead in the paint or coatings on children's products, and the standard used was outdated and allowed for dangerously high levels of the neurotoxin. As directed by Congress, the agency lowered the total lead limit for children’s products, as well as the permissible concentration of lead in paint.

In addition to lead, the CPSIA restricted phthalates in children's products for the first time. Phthalates are a group of chemicals used in plastics and many other products. The CPSIA permanently banned three types of phthalates, in any amount greater than 0.1 percent, and placed an interim ban on three additional varieties. The permanently banned phthalates have been linked to reproductive or developmental harms, and one is listed in the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens as "reasonably anticipated" to cause cancer.

The product safety law also required the CPSC to establish an advisory panel to study the effects of phthalates on children’s health and issue recommendations based on its findings. The Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel convened in 2010 and is currently completing its draft report.

With additional authority and support provided by the CPSIA, the CPSC has worked to ensure these standards are enforced. Over the last several years, CPSC has secured millions of dollars in civil penalties for regulatory violations, including the lead content limit and lead paint ban. The agency has also obtained penalties and permanent injunctions against importers of children’s products for repeated violations of the lead and phthalates restrictions.

The number of lead-related recalls has dropped dramatically since 2007, with only four in 2012. The CPSC has also prevented imported products with impermissible lead and phthalate levels from entering the marketplace. In the 3rd quarter of fiscal year 2012 alone, authorities stopped nearly three million units of consumer products that violated safety rules. Of the prohibited toys and children’s products, 67 percent violated federal limits for lead and phthalates.

Because of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, the CPSC can better protect the public and prevent our children from being exposed to harmful chemicals – even before they reach store shelves and our homes.

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