Toy industry tries to get the lead out

"Sarge," a die-cast toy based on a character from the Disney movie "Cars" and manufactured by Mattel, has surface paints that could contain lead levels in excess of federal standards, according to the FDA.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Good to have you with us today. It's Monday, September 10th. Which by my count gives us something like three-and-a-half months until Christmas. It might seem like a good, long while. But if you're an American toy company, you've got your work cut out for you. Last week Mattel recalled yet another batch of lead-tainted Chinese-made toys. The third such recall this summer for the world's biggest toy company. U.S. and Chinese regulators met in Washington today to discuss the safety of those Chinese imports. Regulators are expected to adopt new standards to prevent products containing lead paint from entering the United States. Marketplace's Amy Scott reports that as the holiday shopping season approaches the toy industry is taking matters into its own hands.


Amy Scott: Disney warned manufacturers today it plans to start looking over their shoulders. Disney licenses Mattel and thousands of others to make toys based on its movies and TV shows. Those manufacturers will still be responsible for product safety. But Disney will do its own random testing as well. Retailer Toys R Us and other marketers like Sesame Workshop and Nickelodeon say they're stepping up their testing. Industry analyst Chris Byrne says anyone involved with toys these days is nervous.

CHRIS BYRNE: They can't let their brand be diluted or harmed in any way. So I think it's a level of security that they're taking to ensure themselves and their consumers, and yes, hopefully to get some public relations benefit out of it as well.

The string of recalls and bad publicity doesn't seam to have hurt toy sales so far, analysts say. But toy retailers do the bulk of their business between November and January. Jim Silver publishes Toy Wishes magazine. He says all the extra testing costs money. And by next holiday season, parents might see toy prices rising.

JIM SILVER: If you're paying $6.99 for an action figure, you might be paying $7.99 for it, to add in all these extra lines of safety measures.

Analysts says more scrutiny is bound to turn up more health hazards. Advocacy group Kids in Danger says last year manufacturers recalled 18 million individual toys and other children's products. The group says recalls so far this year total 28 million.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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