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Toymakers find they might be exempt from tough new rules

By Marcus Wohlsen
Associated Press / December 25, 2008
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SAN FRANCISCO - The makers of handcrafted toys received holiday cheer yesterday as they gained support from a federal agency whose regulations they feared could put them out of business.

Last year's discovery of lead paint in mass-market toys prompted the government to pass strict new safety rules requiring testing and labeling that mom-and-pop workshops and retailers said they could not afford.

As a February deadline for complying with the law loomed, toymakers that use benign materials such as unfinished wood, organic cotton, and beeswax sought exemptions from the rules they said could apply to them.

In a memo released yesterday, Consumer Product Safety Commission staff members recommended that the agency exempt some natural materials from the lead testing requirements.

"I think this is definitely a step in the right direction and would provide substantial and enormous relief to our manufacturers," said Dan Marshall, co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St. Paul.

Marshall and nearly 100 other toy stores and makers formed the Handmade Toy Alliance to ask lawmakers to exempt small toy companies from testing and labeling rules.

Staff toxicologists at the product safety commission told agency commissioners in the memo that some unfinished natural materials should be considered lead free. The materials include wood and fibers such as cotton, silk, wool, hemp, flax, and linen.

The commission still must vote on the recommendations.

"The agency is diligently working on providing rules that would define some exclusions and some exemptions," said Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the product safety commission.

Lead paint prompted the recall of 45 million toys last year, mostly made in China. Parents flocked to small specialty toy stores in the aftermath, searching for safer alternatives.

In August, President Bush imposed the world's strictest lead ban in products for children 12 or under, signing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Small toymakers strongly back the restrictions in the bill, which they say reflect voluntary standards they have long observed to keep harmful substances out of toys. But they never thought their products would also be considered a threat.

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