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Toymakers Assail Costs of New Law

A Learning Resources warehouse is full of toys the manufacturer might not be able to sell.
A Learning Resources warehouse is full of toys the manufacturer might not be able to sell. (By Carlos Javier Ortiz For The Washington Post)

That outraged several members of Congress, especially Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Recently, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Public Citizen filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to overturn Falvey's ruling.

"The commission's decision will allow manufacturers to stockpile and retailers to continue selling banned products after the ban date," said Aaron Colangelo, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

On the lead limit, Falvey ruled the opposite. She said the limit applied to any children's product sold after Feb. 10, even if it was made before the law passed. That forces manufacturers to either prove that merchandise already in stores meets the requirements or pull it from shelves.

After Feb. 10, it will be illegal to sell the banned products, even to export them. Manufacturers who borrow money against invoices may find themselves unable to pay creditors because the underlying merchandise is unsalable.

"One day they're an asset; the next day they're contraband. The same thing happened with Prohibition," said Woldenberg, whose 300,000-square-foot warehouse is filled with plastic toys.

He has been shipping them back to China, where they were made, to have them tested for lead and phthalates and shipped back to his Illinois warehouse. Woldenberg said he is confident that his products will meet the standards but is less certain he can afford the cost of proving it.

Testing costs can be exorbitant, and neither the law nor the CPSC spells out how extensive testing must be.

Jamie Kreisman owns Beka, a small company in St. Paul, Minn., that makes wooden puppet theaters, easels and blocks. Kreisman sent one of his best-selling items, a 68-piece set of natural wood blocks, for lead testing by an independent lab. He paid a U.S. lab $500 to confirm that his unfinished blocks were in fact unfinished blocks.

"There was no lead to test, no surface finish to test," he said. "They wrote us a formal report and gave us a bill."

The law also requires a complicated tracking system allowing customers to trace a product's manufacturing origins. Woldenberg said that going back to his warehouse and attaching labels to each product could take years.

"The whole administrative and shipping side has become crazy under this," said Rex Tompkins, president of Europlay, which represents Selecta in the United States.

The problems of the retailers and the toymakers are beside the point, Colangelo said. "Congress decided these toys are unsafe," he said. "That's critical here. We're not talking about unsold inventory of something innocuous. We're talking about something that Congress decided was unsafe and shouldn't be on the shelves."

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