After a wave of recalls of lead-tainted toys from China that frightened many consumers and parents, Maryland legislators are pursuing a bill to ban the hazardous products and allow for random inspections of factories, warehouses and stores.
The bill would prohibit the manufacturing or sale of a children's product - including toys and jewelry or a consumable product such as candy - that contains lead. Maryland legislators said they are moving forward in the absence of more stringent federal action on the issue. Other states - California, Illinois and Michigan - also have lead product bans.
"It's incumbent on the state to act if the feds won't do it," said Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill.
Congress is considering legislation that would set tougher quality-control measures, and President Bush has advocated an expansion of government powers to prevent unsafe imports. But the nation's top watchdog, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has been criticized for not doing enough to police the $2 trillion in imports that enter the United States each year.
Millions of lead-tainted toys from China were recalled last year, including Barbie doll accessories and toys based on characters such as Dora the Explorer and Elmo, as well as toys that contained small magnets that could easily be swallowed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission works with companies to issue recalls when it finds consumer goods that could be harmful. Most recalls are voluntary.
Lead can cause brain damage when ingested by young children. A Minnesota boy died of lead poisoning two years ago after swallowing a metal pendant from a charm bracelet that came with a pair of Reebok shoes.
Similar legislation banning lead products passed the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously last year, but it wasn't considered by the full Senate. Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat, is sponsoring the bill in her chamber this year and said that she anticipates little opposition from lawmakers.
"We don't want our children coming into contact with lead-containing toys," she said. "I think that one of our responsibilities is to protect the children."
According to a fiscal analysis of the bill, increased state inspections would cost more than $50,000 a year. If a product is found to be hazardous, it would have to be removed from store shelves.
Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the National Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said the Maryland legislation would send a message to manufacturers and retailers that they need to better track their products in the supply chain to ensure that they are living up to American standards of safety.
Business groups, including the Maryland Retailers Association, urged lawmakers to be mindful of different standards across states, which could make compliance difficult. The Maryland bill would ban products containing lead in a concentration of more than 0.02 percent of the product's total weight. Other states limit lead content to less than 0.06 percent.
Bruce Bereano, a lobbyist for Safeway Inc., testified at the hearing that some provisions in the bill are "overly broad" and argued that parental responsibility should be part of the debate. "It seems that business is supposed to be the responsible agent for everyone," he said.