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Lead ban won't extend to nonprofit stores

January 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A new safety law designed to protect children from lead takes effect in exactly one month, but there is already confusion about the law on new products.Mothers search for bargains at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store for used toys and used clothes. But are they safe?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has been weighing a regulation that would ban items containing lead from all kinds of stores. From the big chains to secondhand stores, operators would be required to screen all children's items for the toxic metal.

When asked if toys in his store had been tested before, thrift-store operator Anthony Terrazas said no. "I wouldn't even know where to start" looking for lead, he said.

The charity receives donations of toys old and new because it is a volume business there is not checking to see if federal regulators have issued any recalls of these items.

"Parents need to be very, very vigilant in respect for toys in general," said Patricia Bilgin, L.A. City Attorney's Office.

Patricia Bilgin prosecutes environmental hazard violations. The city and state sued toymakers when lead was found in a series of products, most from China. The result: new manufacturing standards in California that are tougher than federal requirements.

Yet many toxic items remain in toy chests and store shelves. They are often painted or have decals.

"Things like backpacks, jewelry, and that is why parents need to remain vigilant," said Bilgin. "'Children's products' is a whole universe of items."

Parents can find help on the Web site HealthyToys.org, which lists the results of 1,500 toys tested.

There is also a handheld tool called the XRF Scanner. Watchdogs groups hold clinics where you can have your toys screened for lead.

But at $30,000, it is a pricey device. It's impractical for screening thousands of thrift-store goods.

Federal regulators have now decided to make the non-profit stores exempt. Operators are relieved, while parents are warned to be watchful.