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President Bush Expected To Sign Toy Safety Law


Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – Colton Burkhart was just 4 when he swallowed a quarter-sized medallion that nearly took his life.

He didn’t choke on it. But the metal trinket from a gumball-type machine contained 39 percent lead, and nearly five years later – after surgery and countless other procedures – the Oregon boy still has elevated levels of lead in his body.

Colton’s ordeal helped hasten recalls last year of millions of Chinese-produced toys, from Barbie doll accessories to Thomas the Tank Engine.

And now his family is celebrating a new law that bans lead from children’s toys.

President Bush is expected to sign it this week, two weeks after Congress approved the measure.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Colton’s mother, Kara Burkhart, an instructional assistant at the Redmond School District in central Oregon. “We can feel comfortable about buying toys again.”

She traveled to Washington several times in the past year to lobby for the bill, telling anyone who would listen about dangers hidden in seemingly innocent toys like the one that wound up in her child’s hands.

Colton fared better than another 4-year-old, Jarnell Graham of Minneapolis, who died of lead poisoning under similar circumstances. Burkhart said her heart still breaks for Jarnell’s family.

“No child should have to go though something like this. They are playing with toys. They shouldn’t be harmed because of it,” Burkhart said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are about 28,000 deaths each year from unsafe products, including toys, in the United States. More than 33 million people were injured last year by consumer products.

Last month, Burkhart, 30, her husband Todd, 33, and sons Cody, 11, and Colton, now 9, were in the Capitol when the toy-safety bill won final approval in the Senate.

Until the bill passed, she added, “there was no way I was going to buy my children a toy again.”

The legislation would impose the toughest lead standards in the world, banning lead beyond minute levels in products for children 12 or younger. Lead paint was a major factor in the recall of 45 million toys and children’s items last year, many from China.

The bill also bans a chemical called phthalates that is widely used to make plastic products softer and more flexible.

And it bolsters the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which took the brunt of criticism last year over the massive recalls and the government’s failure to monitor toy imports before they reach store shelves. The bill would double the agency’s budget, to $136 million by 2014, and give it new authority to oversee testing procedures and penalize violators.

“This bill represents the most significant improvements to product safety since Congress created the CPSC in the 1970s,” said Rachel Weintraub, senior counsel with Consumer Federation of America.

“Congress responded to the wishes of parents and children all across America and passed legislation that will help restore our confidence in the safety of our toys and everyday products,” said Ami Gadhia, policy counsel for Consumers Union, another advocacy group.

Burkhart said she was especially grateful for a provision that requires pre-market testing of children’s products by certified independent laboratories.

“It’s like a security blanket,” she said.

As for Colton, he is set to enter the fourth grade and seems healthy, his mother said, but he has some short-term memory loss and requires regular blood tests to monitor his lead levels.

“God has blessed us with our son being OK and now gave me a tool to say we need to have this stopped,” Burkhart said. “It’s not OK for lead to be in children’s toys.”

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(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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