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Originally published March 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 28, 2008 at 12:26 AM

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Toy-safety debate continues

There's trouble in toyland. Toy sellers and manufacturers are pressing Gov. Christine Gregoire to veto a bill that would outlaw toys that...

Seattle Times staff reporter

There's trouble in toyland.

Toy sellers and manufacturers are pressing Gov. Christine Gregoire to veto a bill that would outlaw toys that contain certain toxins, while children's-health advocates are encouraging her to sign it.

Gregoire is expected to decide the bill's fate next week. If approved, it would give Washington the toughest toy-safety laws in the nation.

The Child Protection Safety Act, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, passed the Legislature with overwhelming support last month. It would reduce the amount of lead, cadmium and plastic-softening phthalates allowed in toys sold in Washington.

The bill also requires that toy manufacturers report to the state Department of Ecology what chemicals are in their products before those products can be sold here.

Recalls of nearly 20 million toys last year eroded consumer confidence in the toy industry and prompted calls for stricter standards. Currently, toys sold in Washington must meet federal standards that aren't as strict as those approved by the Legislature.

The governor met last week with representatives from Mattel and Hasbro, two of the nation's largest toy manufacturers, which oppose the bill.

She met Wednesday with the Washington chapter of the American Association of Pediatrics and the Washington Toxics Coalition, both of which support the legislation.

The bill is well-intentioned, but makes room for "too many unintended consequences," said Rob Harriott, a spokesman for the Toy Industry Association, which represents more than 500 companies nationwide.

Toys containing electronic parts — such as stuffed animals that play music — would no longer be legal in this state since all electronics contain lead and phthalates, he said. The bill does not distinguish between materials that a child can chew on and those inside a toy, which the child can't touch. Lead is toxic if ingested.

Rick Locker, general council for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, which includes 300 companies nationwide, said he's concerned items such as children's car seats and nursery baby monitors would be "accidentally outlawed" because the bill doesn't precisely define which products must meet the new standards.

Local toy-store owners complain that novelties intended for adults — for instance, a Sigmund Freud action figure — are not explicitly exempted in the bill and would have to meet the same standards as children's toys.

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Dickerson acknowledged the toy industry's concerns, saying the bill should clarify that electronic components within a toy are not subject to the same toxic-chemical tests as the rest of the toy. She also said the definition of "toy" may have to be revised.

But, she said, that doesn't mean the bill should be vetoed. It's not uncommon for the Legislature to amend laws to account for such concerns before they go into effect, she said. The governor also can dictate to state agencies how the law would be enforced, Dickerson said.

If signed, the law would go into effect July 2009.

David Wahl, who oversees Archie McPhee, the zany Ballard toy and novelty store, said that while he supports the bill's intention, he worries it will run his and other independent toy stores out of business.

While the bill wouldn't penalize retailers for selling toys that don't meet safety standards, it would force manufacturers to change their standards and perform certain tests before they'd be able to sell their products in Washington.

Since national toy manufacturers get only 2 percent of their total sales in Washington, it's unlikely they'd bother with all those steps to supply retailers here, Wahl said.

Dickerson, who describes herself as "a great fan of Archie McPhee" and planned to meet with Wahl on Thursday, said he need not worry. "The bill is aimed at manufacturers. It specifically protects retailers," she said.

Dickerson also said she hopes other states will pass laws similar to Washington's, forcing toy manufacturers to adopt the stricter standards for everyone. Still, the vast majority of states follow only the federal toy-safety standards.

"We really don't think it's a wild, crazy, environmentally erratic idea for people to know what's in their products," said Dr. Barry Lawson of the Washington chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"There are some issues with the bill that need to be worked out," he said. "But the heart of the bill has our full support: We want toys to be safer for kids."

Haley Edwards: 206-464-2745 or hedwards@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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