Every parent, relative or friend who ever purchased a toy shuddered last year when millions of children's playthings were recalled because of lead and other hazards.
The recalls sent parents tearing through their children's toy boxes to purge the suspect items. The industry scrambled to comply with recalls and to meet with manufacturers to insist they follow product specifications in manufacturing processes. Congress set about overhauling the Consumer Product Safety Commission and expanding its authority.
There needs to be multiple checks to ensure children's toys are safe, such as strict manufacturing requirements by the toy industry and meaningful inspections processes on the part of the federal government.
Nancy Lord, acting chairwoman of the CPSC, speaking at the International Toy Expo, lashed out at the industry for a lack of safety controls. Recalls involving lead paint, she said, showed a breakdown in quality control.
Lord is correct. But when industry fails, consumers rely on their government to help assure safety. This issue is particularly emotional because it involves toys. Toy purchasers, to a very large degree, take for granted that toy sellers have set high quality standards, that toy manufacturers have followed those requirements and that the Consumer Product Safety Commission acts as a backstop to ensure products sold to American consumers are safe.
Consumers must be vigilant, too. They should heed product recalls, and they should make mental notes about particular toy components that pose hazards to young children, such as small parts or magnets. The CPSC's Web site is www.cpsc.gov.
Indeed, the toy industry should have strong motivation to police itself. Its products, after all, are for children. But the CPSC cannot absolve itself of the highly publicized toy recalls that may have contributed to the lackluster holiday shopping season. Toy purchasers must be convinced the products they purchase for loved ones are safe. The government owes this much to its most vulnerable citizens.