Commentary: Has toy safety improved?

Is danger lurking in that toy you want to buy for a favorite toddler?

This year, the chances are better than ever that the answer is No. Toys now on the market are supposed to meet a higher safety standard than they have before, thanks to a law that Congress passed in response to scandals over unsafe toys in 2007. Back then, Mattel alone recalled 21 million Chinese-made toys in a two-month period.

Some of the most important provisions of the 2008 law just kicked in this year, making this the first holiday season with legally-mandated lower lead levels in products made for children under 12.

The legislation obliges toy makers to do independent lead testing or face stiff penalties. It sets a progressively stiffer standard for total lead content in children's products and also reduces the limit of lead allowed in surface coatings or paint -- as of last August -- to 90 parts per million from the previous limit of 600 ppm.

It also bans the sale and distribution or import of any children's toy that contains certain compounds called phthalates, a common component of some products that has been linked to reproductive defects and other health dangers.

Under the law, the limits are applied retroactively to products on a retailer's shelves even if they were manufactured prior to enactment.

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