Vermont toymakers concerned about rules change

12/25/08 5:50PM By John Dillon
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(Host) Vermont's handmade toymakers are resting after the Christmas rush.

But they're looking ahead with concern to the New Year. That's when new regulations require manufacturers to test their products to prove that they're safe.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, the tests are so expensive that some companies may be forced out of business.

(Dillon) Michael Secore and Cecilia Leibovitz operate their toy business out of their home on a hillside in Montpelier.

A living room table serves as an informal product testing bench where 2-year-old Jasper tosses some toys around.

(Secore) "These are some examples. We actually make some of these items. These are called jingle blocks. And they're just made with some designer fabrics and some felt and some felt... All pretty basic stuff, cotton and poly fill... This little guy here is the bunny. And that's made by one of our artists."

(Dillon) Leibovitz and Secore's company is called Craftsbury Kids. They operate an online store that features handmade toys from Vermont and all over the world.

Most of the products are made by one or two people working at home. But all these toys will soon fall under a new federal law that requires extensive testing and labeling for any product used by children 12 and under.

Secore points to a toy car carrier made from untreated wood.

(Secore) "Well they would have to have these items tested for lead and phthalates by a third party lab. And depending what it is and how many components are on each of the items it could run anywhere from $150 bucks to thousands for each item. Something like this car carrier could cost thousands."

(Dillon) The law is called the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. It was passed last year in response to massive recalls of dangerous toys that contained lead and other harmful materials. Phthalates, for example, are chemicals used to make plastics soft and they've been linked to reproductive problems.

But Vermont companies are concerned that the new law may have serious unintended consequences.

(Voake) "Well, the cost would be ridiculous.

(Dillon) Ron Voake has been making wooden toys for about 35 years. His Norwich company sells about 200 different items, everything from small cars to larger riding toys. The company is small - just him and his dog, he says. And the cost of complying with the law could put him out of business.

(Voake) "It could be half a million dollars or something. And I make very little period, as one person. So it would just be stupid and impossible to continue. So that would be that, I guess."

(Dillon) In Morrisville, Ed Loewenton runs Turner Toys, which sells classic kids toys on line.

Loewenton says the goal of the law is sound, since importers were selling products that contained dangerous levels of lead. But he thinks there should be exemptions in the regulations.

(Loewenton) "What the small, local wood toy manufacturers are asking for is that some materials be excluded. And I fully support that. Some materials cannot contain lead. And in fact, they cannot contain phthalates. Wood is one of them."

(Dillon) Vermont Congressman Peter Welch co-sponsored the law that led to the regulations that Vermont companies now find onerous. Welch released a statement saying he wants the regulations to focus on overseas manufacturers. He says he will work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make sure Vermont companies are treated fairly.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

Photo: Michael Secore of Craftsbury Kids shows off a wooden dragonfly 

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