House Votes To Curb Lead In Products For Children

Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's) said states must act to protect their residents from lead.
Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's) said states must act to protect their residents from lead. (Courtesy Of James W. Hubbard)
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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 1, 2008

Maryland would hire inspectors to enforce a ban on manufacturing, selling, importing or distributing toys and other children's products containing dangerous levels of lead under legislation that passed overwhelmingly yesterday in the House of Delegates.

The bill, which passed the chamber 132 to 4 and now heads to the state Senate, would require state inspectors to monitor toys on store shelves statewide. The law would make Maryland one of the first states to ban some lead-containing products after a year of high-profile recalls of toys made in China that were found to contain too much lead.

"It's a significant step in the protection of children," said Del. James W. Hubbard (D-Prince George's), who introduced the measure and considers lead-containing products a public health risk.

If the legislation passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), it would remove from shelves products whose lead content makes up more than 0.06 percent of their weight and punish retailers, manufacturers and distributors who sell them. The law would take effect July 1 and cover all products marketed to children younger than 6. The measure exempts jewelry and candy.

Congress is considering legislation directing the Consumer Product Safety Commission to beef up toy inspections. Hubbard said his legislation would automatically lower Maryland's lead limit if the federal government lowers the limit nationally.

But Hubbard said that it could be years before such a federal law is enacted and that the state needs to act first.

"There's no enforcement at the national level, and that's been the issue with this whole case," Hubbard said. "There's been a lack of confidence with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and this administration in Washington, D.C., has weakened this organization and not given it the enforcement tools that are necessary."

He added, "It's now up to the states to protect their own citizens."

California, Illinois and Michigan have similar bans on lead-containing products, according to Maryland legislative analysts. Many other states have called for federal authorities to ramp up inspections of toys after millions of toys from some of the biggest names in the business were found to contain dangerous levels of lead.

Some delegates questioned the bill because it would cost money at a time when the state is considering budget cuts.

Del. Gail H. Bates (R-Howard) was one of the four delegates to vote against the bill. She said hiring inspectors to enforce it would cost the state precious resources amid an economic downturn.

"This is a judgment call," Bates said.

In addition, she said, checking toys should be left to parents and federal monitors.

"Parents can make good choices, and certainly the Consumer Product Safety Commission evaluates products, and I don't think we need to duplicate that at the state level," Bates said.

Earlier in this legislative session, Hubbard's bill caused something of an international dispute. An official at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative sent a letter warning China about the bill's international trade ramifications.

In a letter faxed from Beijing to Annapolis, Chinese officials challenged the authority of the General Assembly to enact such legislation and said it would create "unnecessary barriers to international trade."

But Hubbard said the Chinese position would not be a factor in the debate in Annapolis.

"I've got a billion and a half people opposed to a bill that's going to pass," Hubbard said last month, referring to China's population. "We represent the citizens of the state of Maryland. I don't worry about what the Chinese government thinks."

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