Toy companies, upset about a toxic toys bill sitting on the governor’s desk, are threatening to take their lead-tainted and phthalate-laced balls and go home. Gov. Gregoire should let ’em.

Representatives of the nation’s two biggest toymakers, Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc., visited Olympia last week in an attempt to convince Gregoire to veto legislation that sets tough new standards for dangerous substances in toys.

The measure would establish the nation’s strictest standard for lead content in children’s products, although the limit would still be above what the American Academy of Pediatrics considers acceptable.

Washington’s law also would regulate cadmium and phthalates, chemicals that make plastics pliable but have been found to cause abnormal reproductive development.

The new rules stem from last year’s massive toy recalls and revelations about federal regulators’ failure to exercise adequate oversight of chemicals used to make children’s products. That toymakers are now squirming under increased public scrutiny is not surprising.

The Toy Industry Association is working hard to defeat widespread state efforts to get a handle on the problem. The association warns that toy makers could stop shipping products to Washington state if the law takes effect.

Parents need not worry. The toy industry is not going to stop selling toys in Washington just because the state decides to do what the federal government should have done long ago: Crack down on dangerous ingredients in children’s playthings.

By the time the state’s standards kick in July 2009, Washington is likely to be joined by other states fed up that Congress has not done more. Lawmakers in 29 states are considering bills similar to Washington’s law; five other states have standards already on the books. California’s ban on phthalates in toys takes effect next year.

Retailers aren’t waiting on federal legislation either. Earlier this month, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us voluntarily imposed much tighter standards for lead paint on children’s toys. Both chains also plan to also restrict products with phthalates.

Given a choice between losing huge outlets for their products or revamping manufacturing processes, you can bet toymakers will adjust.

Opponents of the legislation raise the specter of unintended consequences. They seem primarily concerned about lead solder and phthalate in toys’ internal electronic components. Car seat manufacturers also argue that the legislation would outlaw their products.

Their claims, coming before the rule-making process that will establish how the law is implemented, are premature. No one is looking to ban Tickle Me Elmo dolls or require that car seats be built with weaker materials.

The more compelling argument is that having different standards for different states would create a regulatory nightmare. Critics have a point there. State-by-state rules are not the ideal way to regulate consumer products.

But the feds haven’t given states much of a choice. Better that toy makers have to jump through bureaucratic hoops than continue putting toxins in the mouths of babes. If Washington and other states show the way, perhaps the feds will follow.

The original story appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune.