Johnson & Johnson, Mattel Inc. and other manufacturers of children's products would be required to report whether toys, cosmetics, jewelry, apparel and other items contain certain harmful chemicals, under new rules proposed by Washington state.
Officials have come up with a list of 59 chemicals that would trigger reporting to the state. The list includes cadmium, formaldehyde, benzene and bisphenol A.
Manufacturers of products intended for sale in Washington would report how much of the chemicals are in their products and how they are being used, such as to kill germs or harden plastics. The rules also would apply to retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that directly import products into the U.S.
"We're trying to get an understanding of what chemicals are in products," said Carol Kraege, the Department of Ecology's toxics policy coordinator. "This is the first step toward safer products."
The agency released the proposed rules Monday and expects to finalize them early next year.
Reporting would begin in 2012 for the largest manufacturers, or those with gross sales of over $1 billion. It would phase in over the next several years for smaller companies.
In 2008, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring manufacturers to report whether children's products contain certain chemicals. Industry groups had lobbied against that Children's Safe Product Act, which also limited the use of lead, cadmium and specific phthalates in toys and other kids products.
State officials decided not to enforce their new regulations limiting lead, cadmium and phthalates after deciding that a federal law passed later in 2008 pre-empted that part of the act. However, the second part of Washington's law, requiring manufacturers to disclose chemicals of concern to children, was not affected by the federal statute, state officials said.
Industry and business officials said this week they have worked with the state to make sure the proposed rules are workable for companies.
Andy Hackman, a spokesman with the Toy Industry Association, said his group still has some concerns about the low level of chemical concentration that would trigger reporting.
"The reporting levels are really quite low," Hackman said Tuesday. "Right now they have them so low that it begins to pick up trace levels (in the environment)."
Kraege said the state isn't setting a health-based standard. "All we're trying to do is get information" she said. The system will help officials decide the next steps and which products they should worry about.
State officials came up with 59 chemicals of concern from about 2,000 prospective chemicals that cause cancer and harm fetal development, among other factors.
The chemicals on the list are toxic, and have been found in children's products or have been found present in human tissues, such as blood or breast milk, Kraege said.
A chemical's presence in a product, however, does not necessarily mean that children are being exposed to it or that a product is harmful, Kraege said.
The first round of reporting applies to products intended for children 3 and under or likely to be put in a child's mouth, such as feeding products, or on their skin, such as lotions and creams. Clothes, jewelry, bedding and car seats come next, followed by toys.
Advocates say the reporting rules will fill a gap of information.
"Parents go to the store and have no idea what's in toys they buy for kids," said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, campaign director with the Washington Toxics Coalition, which lobbied for the Washington law. "This information will give them peace of mind. This is going to give the (state) agencies information on what products have the more harmful chemicals."
Rick Locker, general counsel for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, said his group is still evaluating the rules. JPMA represents about 300 companies, including Fisher-Price.
"Our view is that children's products, particularly infant products, should not contain any hazardous substance that is accessible to the child," he said.
"Accessibility" has been a key to industry's stance on regulation. For example, Wal-Mart began requiring in April that suppliers test children's products for cadmium after an Associated Press investigation showed the world's largest retailer was selling jewelry containing the toxic metal. The test doesn't look for the mere presence of cadmium — it determines how much would escape into the body if an item is swallowed and stomach acid begins to break it down.
Locker and other industry officials said children's products are already heavily regulated. "We have a lot of layers of regulation that apply nationally to a broad array of children's products," he said.
"We should embrace making products safer," said Grant Nelson, government affairs director for Association of Washington Business.
The group is still studying the rules, he said, but "there needs to be some realistic approach to implementing the requirements and a recognition of feasibility, cost and reality when it comes to looking at the next potential steps."