US Product Safety Bill to Become Law

In a development that observers deemed a significant action for US product safety regulations, the US Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 this month. The bill has been sent to President Bush, who is expected to sign it into law, lowers allowable limits for lead and for six types of phthalates in children’s products. In addition, the bill mandates third-party testing for certain children’s products and increases funding for ensuring product safety.

In response to toy recalls (see IBO 11/15/07), consumer complaints and actions by private companies (see IBO 2/29/07), the Act is designed to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the US government’s regulatory agency for ensuring the safety of 15,000 types of consumer products. In the bill, children’s toys are defined as toys for children aged 12 years old and under.

Addressing the lead content in children’s toys, which prompted a recall of more than 45 million products from the world market last year, the Act specifies a gradual lowering of the limit of lead in children’s products over three years. Within 180 days of the bill’s enactment, the lead amount in children’s products will be set at 600 ppm. This limit decreases to 300 ppm after one year and then to 100 ppm after three years. The limits apply only to lead parts that could come in direct contact with children. Congress will review the limit every five years.

The legislation also specifies new limits for lead in paint and other surface coatings used on children’s toys and furniture. The lead limit for these products is lowered from 600 ppm to 90 ppm and will take effect within a year of the bill’s enactment. The legislation specifically cites X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) as one of the possible technologies for determining the amount of lead in coatings weighing 10 mg or less, or when the coating covers 2 µg or less of surface area. Methods other than XRF require a maximum of 2 µg of lead for every 10 mg or less of coating, or every 1 sq. cm of surface area. The CSPC is also required, within a year, to complete a report evaluating XRF and other techniques and to conduct such a study every five years and to determine if the testing methods need to be revised.

The legislation also requires the testing of certain children’s products by independent, third-party laboratories to certify their compliance with regulations. This measure takes effect within 90 days of the bill’s enactment. Deadlines for the publication of the requirement for accreditation are based on the product type. Such requirement will be periodically reviewed. Companies may use their own laboratories to satisfy testing requirements as long as they are “firewalled,” following approval by the CPSC.

The Act also limits the amount of three types of phthalates—DEHP, DBP and BBP—to 0.1% in certain children’s toys and child care articles, which are defined as products to help children age 3 or younger to sleep or feed, starting 180 days after the bill’s enactment. Three other phthalates—DINP, NIDP and DnOP—will also be limited to 0.1% levels on a temporary basis. A Chronic Hazard Panel will be appointed to study the safety of these three chemicals and report to Congress within 18 months. Following this report, Congress will determine if the limit should remain.

The bill also responds to complaints about the CSPC’s budget and workload. The CSPC’s appropriations will increase in fiscal years 2010 and 2012–2014 (see graph above) and its staff is required to increase to at least 500 by October 1, 2013. The Commission currently has approximately 420 employees, according to Congressional testimony. Although some states, including California and Washington, had enacted their own lead limits, the federal legislation will preempt these unless an exemption is issued. Additionally, the bill specifies requirements for tracking labels on children’s products, creates a consumer products database and provides for additional measures for identifying manufacturers. Other measures in the bill specifically addressing chemical testing include a required study within two years examining the use of formaldehyde in textiles and clothing.

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