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Editorial | Product-Safety Horrors

Toughen regulations!

Fewer of you will be buying toys on this biggest shopping day of the year due to the recent spate of product- safety scares.

In an online poll conducted Oct. 9-15 of 2,565 adults in the United States, 33 percent of respondents said they will shy away from buying toys this year; 45 percent vowed to avoid toys made in China. That's going to be tough, considering 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are manufactured in China.

Parents are right to be scared, after numerous recalls this year of toys made in China that contain high levels of lead paint and other toxic or dangerous materials. Earlier this month, millions of Aqua Dots, a popular arts and crafts kit, were recalled after beads in it were found to have a toxic coating.

More precautions are needed to keep dangerous toys away from children. The trend of weakening federal consumer protections, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, needs to be reversed.

Bills making their way through Congress would do those things.

A House bill would require that all toys be tested by independent labs. It would increase maximum fines for companies that failed to report hazards, shorten the time for those companies to report safety problems, and strengthen the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A Senate version also would beef up the commission by increasing its budget and staff. The commission workforce has shrunk from about 1,000 employees in the 1980s to 420 now.

A main force behind this erosion has been the Bush administration's disdain of regulation and preference for voluntary compliance by industry on such things as product-safety standards.

Bush's way isn't working.

The same weaknesses exist in the Food and Drug Administration, which can issue only voluntary recalls of hazardous products, such as toothpaste from China that contained a poisonous chemical.

These agencies need strong, mandated standards and enough staff and authority to enforce them. They need leaders who believe government has a role in protecting Americans from dangerous goods. The commission's acting chairperson, Nancy Nord, is not such a leader.

Americans have one tool that requires no government action. As the online poll showed, they can pressure China, manufacturers, and retailers for safe toys - by putting other goodies under the Christmas tree this year.