WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. toy industry is under growing pressure from U.S. lawmakers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to launch a testing program to ensure the safety of products from China, officials said on Tuesday.
Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the CPSC, said the agency was prodding the U.S. toy industry to step up safety checks after a spate of recalled toy imports.
“We’ve been having ongoing and rather aggressive conversations with the U.S. toy industry about putting in place a program that would test toys before they are imported into the United States, and I’m very hopeful that that program will be announced and implemented soon,” Nord said.
She spoke at a news conference announcing Mattel Inc.’s voluntary recall of more than 9 million U.S. toys due to paint containing too much lead or small magnetic parts that can be swallowed by young children.
The U.S. safety agency has been involved with seven recalls of Chinese-made toys for excessive lead levels since March. Lead paint has been linked to brain damage and other health problems in small children.
U.S. toy companies are not required to test products but do have a legal obligation to report any significant safety concerns to the CPSC.
“I have been having ongoing conversations with the toy industry to ramp up their testing in China. What I would like to see at the end of the day is a program where all toys made in China are tested before they are imported here,” Nord said.
Some Democratic lawmakers said action is needed.
“I have asked to meet, next week, with the CEOs of the major U.S. toy manufacturers and retailers and will urge them to voluntarily submit to third-party inspections of their Chinese manufactured products,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.
Durbin also said the United States should “temporarily detain and inspect” all shipments of Chinese-made products for children that contain paint. He has introduced legislation that would boost CPSC funding and let it fine retailers who knowingly sell recalled products.
Nord, who has been the acting head of the CPSC for a year, also said she was seeking more legal power for her agency to safeguard toy imports.
“I have asked the U.S. Congress for additional authority in this area so that toys coming into the United States can be certified as meeting U.S. safety standards,” Nord said.
Other lawmakers criticized the Bush administration for failing to permanently fill the top job at the consumer agency. In May, Michael Baroody, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, withdrew his nomination after Democrats questioned whether his severance package would create a potential conflict of interest.
“The commission still lacks the needed resources to perform its important mission,” said Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Nord said Chinese and U.S. officials have been meeting to discuss how to improve the safety of exported Chinese toys as well as fireworks, lighters and electrical products. In September, another meeting will be held in Washington.
The CPSC has sent technical staff to China for a decade to help its manufacturers understand U.S. safety requirements.
Nord said there were no reports of children being injured from the latest batch of toys recalled by Mattel, which includes Doggie Daycare and Barbie and Tanner playsets, Batman action figures and die-cast trucks.
“There is absolutely no excuse for lead to be found in toys entering this country. It is totally unacceptable and it needs to stop,” Nord said. “This agency is going to take whatever action it needs to take to address that problem aggressively.”
About 70 percent to 80 percent of toys sold in U.S. stores are made in China, Nord said.
“It’s logical to expect that if there are going to be problems, it’s going to be with toys manufactured in China. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,” Nord said.
Reporting by Julie Vorman