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Gregoire signs "toxic toys" bill, making Washington state's standards strictest in the nation

Fans of SpongeBob SquarePants slippers better start stockpiling
By
Haley Edwards

Gov. Christine Gregoire signed the so-called "toxic toys" bill into law Tuesday, enacting the most stringent toy-safety standards in the nation.

Under the new legislation, SpongeBob SquarePants slippers and thousands of other toys that do not meet stricter standards for allowable levels of lead, cadmium and phthalates in children's products will be outlawed in Washington state as of July 1, 2009.

The law also requires that manufacturers of toys and children's products report to the state Department of Ecology whether their products contain harmful chemicals. Washington is the only state that requires such disclosure.

Gregoire, who was surrounded by children and child-health advocates when she addressed the media Tuesday, cited last year's barrage of toy recalls as one of the reasons to enact safety standards that are stricter than those required by the federal government.

"The people of America need to have confidence that when they purchase a toy for their children, it's going to be safe," Gregoire said.

SpongeBob SquarePants slippers were among the toys the consumer-action group HealthyToys.org said wouldn't meet the new standards.

Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, who sponsored the original House Bill 2647, said the new legislation shows that Washington state is out front in dealing with children's safety.

"I hope that there will be many, many other states that follow suit," she said.

Gregoire called the bill "important" but "not perfect," and added a few caveats to the legislation. She vetoed one section because of unclear language and another section that she said called for a too-strict timeline.

The Toy Industry Association, which represents more than 500 toy companies nationwide and fought the bill, said it was heartened by the governor's willingness to address some of the concerns they had with the legislation.

"We are encouraged that the governor vetoed two key parts of the bill and issued strong cautions about the remaining sections," the association said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Gregoire said she will instruct the state Department of Ecology to test only the outside of toys for toxic substances and not internal electronic components that aren't accessible to children.

"In particular, I do not want to eliminate the many interactive and educational toys that have internal electronics that, without modification of the law, would be taken off the shelf," she said.

Gregoire also said she will establish an advisory group composed of both health advocates and toy manufacturers to determine a new timeline for when manufacturers must disclose to the state Department of Ecology what chemicals are used in their products. She vetoed the original timeline.

The advisory group will recommend changes to a part of the bill dealing with whether all parts of children's car seats will be subject to the new safety standards.

Any changes could be adopted when the Legislature convenes again next January.

Several local toy retailers, including the Ballard favorite Archie McPhee, expressed concern last week that the legislation would force them to close their doors.

Gregoire said she did not expect any toy companies to go out of business because of the new rules.

"We in Washington are not going to wait to protect our children," she said. "And the toys that pose a danger to our children are not welcome here."

Staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this story.

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