Millions of toys have been recalled in the past year because they contain lead, but that doesn’t mean your child’s toy box is safe yet.

“The average consumer assumes that if there’s something on the shelf, that somebody has tested to make sure it’s safe,” said state Sen. Debbie Regala, “and that’s really not accurate.”

Regala, a Tacoma Democrat, is one of a handful of state lawmakers signed onto a bill in Olympia that would ban such harmful substances as lead, cadmium and phthalates from children’s products. It also would require companies to disclose what chemicals their products contain. A House of Representatives committee will hold a hearing on
the bill Wednesday.

While lead in paint is illegal, it’s commonly used as a stabilizer in plastics and as an additive to metals. Cadmium and phthalates, known to cause cancer and birth defects, are also used in many plastics
without regulation.

“Although we have something called the Consumer Product Safety Commission, federal action is nonexistent, and they don’t actually have legal authority to make sure that products are safe,” Regala said.

The federal commission has received harsh criticism because of the high number of toy recalls. Critics say the agency doesn’t have strict enough rules and fails to enforce the ones it has.

Ivy Sager-Rosenthal with the Washington Toxics Coalition, a nonprofit organization that has tested hundreds of toys to build a “safe toys” database, said the amount of lead in some toys is shocking. A plastic slinky the group tested, for example, contained 1.5 percent lead.

“A lot of plastic toys have lead used as a stabilizer in the plastic,” Sager-Rosenthal said.

Although no amount of lead is safe, lead in paint is limited to 600 parts per million, said Steve Gilbert, a lead expert, director of the Institute for Neurotoxicology and an associate professor at the
University of Washington.

“It doesn’t take much for a 1-, 2- or 3-year-old. A small exposure is a big dose,” Gilbert said, adding that many of the health effects are irreversible.

Sager-Rosenthal said that while a number of toys they tested contained harmful chemicals, she was surprised to find how many – including toys from China – did not.

“This shows that it is possible to make toys free of dangerous chemicals and that it isn’t just a China problem,” she said.

Besides banning chemicals and requiring disclosure, the bill would give the state Department of Ecology authority to build on the list of banned substances.


Supporters say Washington’s bill would be an important first step in ensuring children’s safety. If the bill passes, Washington would be the second state, behind California, to ban toxic substances from
children’s products. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law in October that will ban six types of phthalates beginning in 2009.

The legislation comes in the absence of federal action. Congress has authorized an additional $20 million to the Consumer Product Safety Commission this year, but federal lawmakers haven’t acted on
legislation that would give the agency more regulatory power.

The commission announced last year that it would take steps to ban lead in children’s metallic jewelry, but it did not address lead used in plastics or other chemicals.

The agency’s chief, Nancy Nord, defended her safety record earlier this month to the National Press Club, saying no injuries or deaths have been reported from the recalled toys. She said choking presents a greater hazard.

Marcia Nelson, who works at Learning Sprout toy store in Tacoma, said she hopes the bill will pass to give toy stores some help.

Before the toy recalls, she assumed the government was testing toys regularly. Now, she said, each toy company is left to determine the safety of its own toys before recalls are issued.

“It’s been hard,” she said.


Opponents – including some toy manufacturers – opposed the California bill because, they say, the additional regulation is unnecessary. A call to Fisher-Price, a toy company hit by recalls this year, was not returned Friday.

Frederick Locker, a lawyer who works in the toy industry, told The New York Times last summer that toy makers had increased their testing to ensure lead paint didn’t end up in toys. At the same time,
the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association called on American importers to ban lead paint for the same reason.

The industry’s efforts have been largely focused on lead paint, which is already illegal, and not the sort of products that would be banned by this bill.

Regala, who helped pass a law last session to make Washington the first state to ban a toxic chemical from flame retardants, is hopeful the bill will pass. Without it, she said, consumers are left with no

The House’s version of the bill will have a public hearing Wednesday, the same day as a “toxic-free toys” lobbying day that will bring parents and toy store owners to the Capitol.

Regala said the presence of these harmful substances is alarming because it’s not necessary.

“You don’t have to use lead,” she said.

-Niki Sullivan: 360-754-6093

Committee hearing on House Bill 2647
When: Wednesday at 6 p.m.
Who: Select Committee on Environmental Health
Also: Senate Bill 6530, the companion to the House Bill, has been introduced and sent to a committee, but it does not yet have a hearing scheduled.

More information:
For a searchable database of toys, visit

The original story appeared in the Tacoma News Tribune.