July 30, 2008 -- The House overwhelmingly passed legislation Wednesday that boosts government regulation of consumer products, including toys that were subject to a rash of recalls last year.
The bill increases funding and regulatory clout at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a relatively small government agency responsible for testing product safety and pulling items off the market if they're deemed unsafe.
The agency fell under scrutiny last year and over the winter as dozens of toys -- many of them made in China and sold by some of the nation's biggest manufacturers -- were pulled from store shelves.
The bill, which passed 424-1, doubles the agency's budget. It increases fines and other penalties for companies that don't comply with new rules and forces companies to certify to the government that they're enforcing safety standards in factories and toy design.
"It should be a given that toys are not dangerous," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
The bill permanently bans three chemicals in a category known as phthalates, which are used to soften plastics in toys but which studies have linked to reproductive development and endocrine problems. Three other phthalates are temporarily banned pending a safety review by regulators and the National Academy of Sciences.
The bill also bans lead in children's toys, except in trace amounts. Last year, lead was found in toy jewelry made in China and in other products. Effects of lead poisoning include developmental delays and cognitive deficits.
The final version of the bill represented a rare compromise in an election-year Congress driven by partisan rancor.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the package was "a strong bill."
"We don't ban or outlaw products on no science or bad science; there will be reputable science," he said.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was the only House member to oppose the bill.
Toy manufacturers were generally supportive of the bill, which is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Bush.
Bill Locker, counsel for the Toy Industry Association, which represents manufacturers, said the bill is "robust and tough".
"It's going to greatly enhance the ability of the agency to do its job and will enhance the safety of the products that are sold in the United States," he told WebMD.
Toy makers will have to certify to the Consumer Product Safety Commission that they're enforcing safety guidelines in manufacturing facilities in the United States, or, more likely, in Asia.
They won't just be able to certify it, Locker said. "They'll have to back those up with evidence of compliance."
Consumer and environmental groups praised the bill, including its ban on phthalates, which has been controversial for years.
"This long-overdue action is not only a victory for parents and children, but an encouraging sign that Congress recognizes that our chemical regulatory system needs reform," Jane Houlihan, vice president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.