Proponents say there's no known safe level of lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage, learning disabilities and other problems such as aggressive behavior. With its vote, the agency decided that it is "technologically feasible" for manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas to make products that meet the lower lead standard.
"As a result of the commission's decision today, consumers can rest assured that lead should be virtually nonexistent in toys and other children's products," said Commission Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, a Democrat.
The Republicans on the commission, Nancy Nord and Anne Northup, criticized the decision -- saying the amount of allowable lead is already very low, essentially trace levels. They said the commission failed to undertake a solid review of whether all manufacturers, especially smaller domestic businesses, really can make their products with the lower-lead level plastics, steel and other materials required as part of the new standard. Those materials are often more expensive, and the Republicans argued they may not be commercially available to all manufacturers.
"Just because a material is out there for a jet plane, doesn't mean that it's appropriate for a toy plane," Commissioner Nord said during the two-hour debate.
Once the new standard takes effect Aug. 14, the total lead content allowed by weight in any part of a children's product will be no more than 100 parts per million, down from 300 parts per million.
Bigger manufacturers, such as Hasbro, have already been testing to the lower 100 ppm limit. But smaller businesses have said it could mean job cuts or failed companies because of increased testing costs, more expensive materials, and products that may have to be cleared from store shelves and thrown away on Aug. 14. The way the law was written by Congress, the lower 100 ppm limit is retroactive. Legislation under consideration in the House may reverse that retroactivity.
A sweeping safety law passed in 2008 ushered in strict limits on the amounts of lead and chemicals allowed in products intended for children. Congress passed it after a slew of recalls of millions of lead-tainted toys during the holiday season the previous year.
Canada has a lower lead content limit of 90 parts per million for many products meant for young children.