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Children's Health

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New Child Product Safety Law Starts

Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act Targets Phthalate and Lead Levels in Toys, Other Products
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 10, 2009 -- A new safety law for children's toys and products launches today, targeting lead and chemicals called phthalates.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was enacted in August 2008 and takes effect today. Here's what it says:

  • Phthalates: Children's products (including toys, pacifiers, sippy cups, and mattresses) cannot contain more than 0.1% of certain phthalates, which are chemicals that make vinyl and other plastics soft and flexible.
  • Lead: Consumer products intended for children 12 and younger may not have more than 600 parts per million of lead in any accessible part.

Phthalates are also found in some cosmetics, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, food packaging, medical devices, and cleaning and building materials, making for widespread human exposure, notes a December 2008 report published by the National Academy of Sciences.

The CPSIA limits on phthalates apply to toys for kids 12 and younger (except for bicycles, playground equipment, musical instruments, and sporting goods) and child care products that a child 3 or younger would use for sleeping, feeding, sucking, or teething.

Animal studies have linked phthalates to possible reproductive effects in males, including decreased sperm count, infertility, and reproductive tract malformations. But the effects in people aren't clear, according to the National Academy of Sciences report.

Children's products had lead limits previously, but the act lowers those limits. Lead poisoning, which happens over many months or years of environmental lead exposure, can stunt children's growth and cause brain, kidney, and hearing damage.

Starting next year, children's product makers must test their products and certify that they meet CPSIA standards. In the meantime, products exceeding the lead and phthalate levels set forth in the act can be recalled.

The law was enacted in the wake of several high-profile children's product recalls that were due to high lead levels and to small magnets in some toys that could come loose, posing a health risk to young children who might swallow or inhale those magnets.

But the act doesn't specify what parents should do about children's products they already own, and giving questionable products to a secondhand store doesn't get those items out of circulation.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is working on guidance for parents. Meanwhile, the CPSC encourages parents to sign up on the CPSC's web site for email notification of new product recalls.

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