Facing intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the safety of imported lead-based toys and jewelry, retail and jewelry industry representatives said Thursday they would support a national lead standard for children's products, but cautioned against a...
WASHINGTON — Facing intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill over the safety of imported lead-based toys and jewelry, retail and jewelry industry representatives said Thursday they would support a national lead standard for children's products, but cautioned against a total ban because it would place burdens on companies and their supply chains.
Lawmakers have stepped up pressure to overhaul the underfunded, understaffed Consumer Product Safety Commission in the wake of a growing controversy over contaminated Chinese imports. They are examining how U.S. business models allowed the tainted products to end up in stores and in the hands of consumers.
The House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection wrapped up a two-day hearing during which business groups testified about their testing and quality control measures for children's lead-based products.
"To be sure, China is not without blame," said Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.). "But regulatory deficiencies, shoddy business practices and the forces of globalization all play a substantial role in this catastrophe. In short, there is enough blame to go around."
Dingell said the committee should explore the structure of future U.S. trade agreements to strengthen product safety enforcement, what quality control practices U.S. businesses in China should use to ensure "supply chain integrity" and how the cost pressures large U.S. retailers put on manufacturers "diminish quality control."
U.S. retailers and importers are growing more anxious about the Congressional scrutiny amid several recalls of contaminated and defective products from China, and concern over injuries and deaths of children, as in the case of a four-year-old in Minneapolis who died after ingesting a piece of lead-painted jewelry that was sold with a new pair of shoes.
Lawmakers paid close attention Thursday to testimony from Dana Best, a pediatrician representing the American Academy of Pediatrics, who testified there are no safe levels of lead exposure for children.
"There is no reason lead should be used in any products," Best said. "If it is used, it's because it's cheaper than any other product."
But business groups and toy company executives said they are instituting new inspection, safety and quality control guidelines and defended the use of limited amounts of lead in products.Michael Gale, executive director of the Fashion Jewelry Trade Association, told legislators his group supports a national standard for lead in jewelry components that pre-empts a multiplicity of state and local laws and regulations. He emphasized the need to maintain separate lead standards in children's jewelry versus adult jewelry and warned lawmakers against crafting a one-size-fits-all standard for lead, as well as a complete ban on lead.
"The total elimination of lead in jewelry, particularly jewelry that is not intended for young children, would impose difficulties and costs on the industry and adversely affect quality and costs to consumers," said Gale, noting lead "imparts useful and desirable properties to metal used in fashion jewelry" facilitating casting of intricate parts.
A spokesman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which counts Wal-Mart and Target among its members, testified that it also supports a "uniform and national standard so that there is not a patchwork of conflicting state and local standards."
"We're not sure that banning lead entirely or developing products containing zero parts per million is achievable," the RILA spokesman said.
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