Fiona Ma for State Assembly
News

S.F. lawmaker demands ban on lead in toys

Jane Kay
San Francisco Chronicle

A Bay Area legislator who is already sponsoring a "toxic toy" bill in the state Legislature told a federal agency Thursday that if it doesn't step up and ban lead in children's products as promised by the end of the year, she will introduce a measure to protect Californians in January.

Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, sent a letter to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the agency responsible for regulating harmful chemicals in consumer products, demanding a speedy prohibition of toxic lead in products used by children, the most vulnerable of the population.

Lead is toxic to the brain and the entire neurological system, and can impair cognitive and physical development even at low levels, scientists say.

Agency spokeswoman Maryanne McGerty-Sieber said Tuesday, in response to a huge recall by Mattel of toys found to contain high levels of lead, that a rule was being prepared to ban the toxic metal in children's products. She couldn't give a timeline for adoption. Critics of the Consumer Product Safety Commission have accused the agency as not having rules strict enough to protect the public and not enforcing the ones they have.

"If the Consumer Product Safety Commission fails to act, I will introduce legislation in California that is similar to an Illinois law to eliminate lead in children's products," Ma said at a press conference Thursday in San Francisco.

Ma has authored AB 1108 in the Legislature which would curb plastic softeners, or phthalates, in toys and child-care products intended for children under 3 years old. Phthalate has been linked to reproductive damage in lab animals. The bill has passed the Assembly and is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

She said she was "shocked that there is so much lead in the products."

Ma referred to the recalls of millions of toys and other products worldwide in the past two weeks by Mattel and its company, Fisher-Price. Some products, including the "Sarge" car recalled on Tuesday, had paint with lead over permissible federal limits. In the Tuesday recall, other products were pulled off the shelves because of magnets that could come loose and endanger children.

"These recalls by the manufacturers show that nobody has been watching and monitoring the products that are coming into the country and being sold," she said. "Obviously, there's some loophole, and faulty products are on our shelves."

Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the federal agency, to whom the letter was sent, couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

At the press conference, Caroline Cox, research director at the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, displayed jewelry containing high levels of lead as well as bibs with vinyl backing and vinyl lunch boxes. Using lead as a stabilizer can be a cheaper way of making vinyl, experts say.

Cox's group has used California's anti-toxics law known as Proposition 65 to sue and gain settlement agreements with retailers and manufacturers to eliminate jewelry, bibs and lunch boxes containing illegal levels of lead.

E-mail Jane Kay at jkay@sfchronicle.com.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle