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Commission delays lead testing in toys

Shoppers check over toys before purchasing at Toys 'R' Us in Times Square in New York City.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

TESS VIGELAND: Toy makers and toy sellers have dodged a huge regulatory bullet. . . sort of. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is delaying new rules that would force toy companies, big and small, to test for lead and other toxic materials. The rules were supposed to go into effect a week from tomorrow. But now there's another year to comply.

Marketplace entrepreneurship reporter Mitchell Hartman has been following this story from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Nice to talk to you, Mitchell.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Thanks, Tess.

VIGELAND: Why the sudden change?

HARTMAN: Well, you know, when this law was passed there wasn't a person in Congress who wanted to be voting for lead poisoning by irresponsible toymakers. But then the Bush administration's Consumer Product Safety Commission started trying to actually write the rules. They were slow. The rules were entirely unclear. Businesses still don't know what exactly they're supposed to test and how to label it. So, Congress and the bureaucrats were under huge pressure from businesses, basically for a top to bottom redo.

I mean, hand-crafters at places like Etsy.com were saying they were going to sell off their entire stock and shut down. I talked to one small toy company, it's called Accoutrements -- they're responsible for the likes of something called the Sigmund Freud action figure and something called the yodeling pickle.

VIGELAND: The yodeling pickle? OK.

HARTMAN: Yeah, everybody needs a yodeling pickle. Mark Pahlow is the CEO of this company.

MARK PAHLOW: We've stopped all new development of any new toys and we're in the process of discontinuing about 200 products because the lab testing is going to cost more than the products themselves.

VIGELAND: So toy makers are obviously breathing a sigh of relief at this point?

HARTMAN: They feel like their concerns about costs and over-regulation are being heard for sure. They still can't make or sell anything that has too much lead in it and those lead limits still go into effect February 10.

VIGELAND: So for business owners like Pahlow, this is, as we said, a bit of a relief. What about for parents who now have no guarantee over the next year that the toys are safe?

HARTMAN: Well, that's right. They don't. That said, toy makers and toy sellers are still not allowed to sell anything that has too much lead in it. They just don't have to test and certify yet.

VIGELAND: All right, Mitchell, what's next?

HARTMAN: Well, this is businesses' best chance to get permanent exemptions in this law. They'd like to see a bunch of materials waived from testing -- wool, natural wood. They'd like to see not having to test final products, if the components have already tested lead-free. They'll be weighing in on Congress for sure. Congress is Democratic, likely to be friendly to consumer-safety advocates and children's health people. But, they are hearing from their constituents they don't want to see toy makers and toy stores shut down either.

VIGELAND: Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman, joining us from Portland, Ore. Thanks so much.

HARTMAN: By the way, Tess, do you want to hear the yodeling pickle?

VIGELAND: Oh, Mitchell, do I have to?

HARTMAN: Well, you know it may disappear from the marketplace and then you'd be sorry.

[sound of yodeling pickle toy]

VIGELAND: I think that's enough. Thank you very much. And thank you to Mitchell Hartman, joining us from Portland.

HARTMAN: You're welcome, Tess.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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