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January 14th, 2009 Dan Green | News Stories
 

Toy Story

Getting the lead out causes a freakout for local toy retailers.

     
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IMAGE: waltonportfolio.com

Christmas is over, yet local toy stores are worried the Grinch could still be making his rounds.

Toy store owners say the Grinch in this case is Congress, which passed a law last year requiring all manufacturers, retailers and importers of items geared toward children younger than 12 to test for lead and phthalates (chemicals added to plastic products to make them soft and pliable) in their wares.

The law is set to take effect Feb. 10, which many toy makers and retailers are calling “National Bankruptcy Day.”

Like their counterparts nationwide, Portland toy makers and retailers are raising hell about the vagueness, harsh penalties and cost of adhering to the law. Estimates for testing range from $40 to $4,000, according to the Handmade Toy Alliance, a national nonprofit.

Even though manufacturers and importers would be the first line of testing, local retailers and toy makers are worried because of differing interpretations.

“I don’t know what to do,” says Jeff Urquhart, owner of Hoot-n-Annie in Southwest Portland. “We’ll have to close if this law isn’t changed.”

“This toy business isn’t a hobby for us,” says Sonja Barclay, co-owner of Spielwerk Toys in North Portland. “This is how we feed our families. We have to fight this.” The impetus for the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed by Congress goes back to 2007, when an influx of lead-laced, Chinese-made toys turned up in U.S. stores.

Retailers aren’t the only ones who are confused. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) wrote a letter Jan. 7 to the agency overseeing the act, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, to seek clarification on eight unanswered questions from his constituents.

In Portland this week, Barclay was among 30 people who met Jan. 12 to discuss ways of revising the law before it takes effect next month.

“We need to lobby on the federal and local level,” says Tony Fuentes, owner of Milagros, a toy store in Northeast Portland.

Retailers at the meeting say they will band together to rent testing equipment, distribute literature to customers and start a nonprofit group to fight the new law.

However, such a Henny Penny reaction may be unwarranted. For one thing, the law specifically states no goods inventoried before Feb. 10 will be required to pass the mandated lead tests.

As for goods inventoried after Feb. 10, the bill’s sponsor—U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)—says the Consumer Product Safety Commission already has the authority to exempt materials like wood and cotton from third-party testing.

Rush spokeswoman Sharon Jenkins blames much of the concern on false allegations floating around the Internet.

“People need to take a deep breath,” Jenkins says. “Nobody’s going out of business.”


FACT: Oregon’s two senators in 2008, Democrat Ron Wyden and since-defeated Republican Gordon Smith, voted for the legislation that passed in the Senate 79-13. The House voted 407-0, including all five House members from Oregon: Republican Greg Walden as well as Democrats Earl Blumenauer, David Wu, Peter DeFazio and since-retired Darlene Hooley.
 
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