Third-Party Safety Tests Not Required by Mattel

Jennifer Kerr, Associated Press, August 27, 2009

Toy-makers, clothing manufacturers and other companies selling
products for young children are submitting samples to independent
laboratories for safety tests. But the nation's largest toy maker,
Mattel, isn't being required to do the same.

The Consumer
Product Safety Commission recently, and quietly, granted Mattel's
request to use its own labs for testing that is required under a law
Congress passed last summer in the wake of a rash of recalls of toys
contaminated by lead. Six of those toys were produced by Mattel Inc.,
and its subsidiary Fisher-Price.

The new law sets strict
limits for lead, lead paint and chemicals known as phthalates. It
mandates third-party testing for companies, big and small, making
products geared for children 12 and under.

"It's really
ironic that the company that was a principal source of the problem" is
now getting favorable treatment from the government, said Michael
Green, executive director of the Center for Environmental Health in
Oakland, Calif.

Mattel is getting a competitive advantage,
Green said, because smaller companies must pay independent labs to do
the tests. Testing costs can run from several hundred dollars to many
thousands, depending on the test and the toy or product.

Mattel
says it demonstrated to the CPSC that its products go through rigorous
safety tests. Spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni also said Mattel has
an appropriate "firewall" in place to ensure test results are protected
from corporate influence.

"We have extremely qualified
people who work feet away from our production lines," Bongiovanni said.
"It allows us to do more testing than any other toy company out there."

Lead
can cause irreversible brain damage. The six Mattel-related recalls in
2007 involved more than 2 million toys. They were part of a slew of
recalls by several dozen companies. The recalls frightened parents and
pressure came to bear on Congress to pass the new law, known as CPSIA.
Mattel and Fisher-Price have not had any lead recalls since.

In June, Mattel agreed to pay a $2.3 million civil penalty for violating the lead paint ban.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said Mattel proved its case that its labs were insulated from undue corporate influence.

Similar
requests from other companies that want to do their own testing are
pending at the agency. The CPSC would not name the companies.

The
agency approved seven Mattel labs as "firewalled third party
laboratories" – the first to get that designation under the new law,
which permits the "firewall" exception. Mattel pushed hard for the
firewalled labs provision when Congress was considering the
legislation. The company spent more than $1 million in 2008 on
lobbying, according to federal records.

Mattel's "firewalled" labs are in Mexico, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and California.

CPSC
issued no press release about the 3-0 vote in Mattel's favor, and
information on the vote was not posted on the commission's Web site
section pertaining to the CPSIA law.

Mattel says its
situation is unique because it owns its production factories outside
the U.S. and can do the required safety testing there. Mattel's
Bongiovanni says the company also ships out some product to third-party
labs, something it's been doing for years.

While Congress
mandated the third-party testing, the commission in January said it
would delay enforcement for a year of some of the testing requirements
for phthalates and lead content – though many companies are doing the
tests anyway.

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