Toymakers say lead law harms workshops

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Worries over lead paint in mass-market toys made the holidays a little brighter for handcrafted toy makers last year, but now the federal government's response to the scare has some workshops fearful that this Christmas might be their last.

Without changes to strict new safety rules, they say, mom-and-pop toy makers and retailers could be forced to conduct testing and labeling they can't afford, even if they use materials as benign as unfinished wood, organic cotton and beeswax.

"It's ironic that the companies who never violated the public trust, who have already operated with integrity, are the ones being threatened," said Julia Chen, owner of The Playstore in Palo Alto, which specializes in wooden and organic playthings.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday the agency is working to set up some exemptions.

Lead paint spurred the recall of 45 million toys last year, mostly made in China for larger manufacturers. Parents flocked to stores like The Playstore in the recall's aftermath searching for safer alternatives.

Lawmakers also responded. In August, President Bush imposed the world's strictest lead ban in products for children 12 or younger by signing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Small toy makers strongly back the restrictions in the bill, which they say reflect voluntary standards they have long observed to keep harmful substances out of toys. But they never thought their products would also be considered a threat.

Under the law, all children's products must be tested for lead and other harmful substances. Toy makers are required to pay a third-party lab for the testing and to put tracking labels on all toys to show when and where they were made.

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