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  QUESTION: What laws govern the amount of lead permissible in toys in NSW, 05 Apr 2005, New South Wales Australia

I am trying to find out what laws govern the amount of lead permissible in toys in NSW. Can you help me?


ANSWER: 05 Apr 2005

Dear Christie,

please find attached the relevant extract: "SECT 21 Supply of art materials [except artists' oil colours], toys, furniture etc containing poisons" [from] "NSW POISONS AND THERAPEUTIC GOODS REGULATION 2008" which says: "(3) A person must not supply any painted toy, furniture or other item of household goods if the paint contains a Schedule 6 or 7 substance." Also find attached the relevant substance listing (Lead Compounds) from Schedule 6 of the NSW Poisons List  which includes: "LEAD COMPOUNDS except:

(b) in zinc based paints or tinters containing 0.2 per cent or less of lead as an impurity in the zinc and calculated on the non-volatile content of the paint or tinter;

(c) in other paints and tinters containing 0.1 per cent or less of lead calculated on the non-volatile content of the paint or tinter; "

As far as I understand it, what this amounts to is that the amount of lead permissible in the paint in toys supplied in NSW is the same as the amount permissible in house paint. By the way, 0.1% lead is equivalent to 1000 mg/kg and 0.2% lead is the same as 2000 mg/kg.
Many people believe that the lead content of paint on toys supplied in NSW would be controlled by the national "Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons (SUSDP) No. 12 - Appendix P - Uniform Paint Standard pp 252 - 256 (1994)" (attached) which states:

"5. A person must not manufacture, sell supply or use a paint for application to toys unless the paint complies with the specification for coating materials contained in Part 3 Australian standard 1647 for Children's Toys (Safety Requirements)."

I can find no evidence to support this commonly held belief. Just in case you are interested to know the limits on lead in paint on toys in AS 1647.3 ("The Toy Standard") for academic purposes, it is 90 mg/kg leachable lead.

In what some would regard as a situation creating unfair restrictions on imported toys compared to locally manufactured toys, paint on imported toys is regulated by the Prohibited Import regulation which was reviewed a couple of years ago but maintained the previously banned "Toys or playthings coated with a material the non-volatile content of which contains more than 250mg/kg lead" (so still is less stringent than the Australian Toy Standard which allows 90 mg/kg leachable lead). These toys are not actually banned if the minister okays them. See "Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 Statutory Rules 1956 No. 90 as amended, compilation was prepared on 1 July 2012. Schedule 2 Goods the importation of which is prohibited unless the permission in writing of the Minister or an authorised person has been granted". Whether the use of the term "coated with a material" in the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations is intended to cover PVC coatings on toys as well as paint I don't know, and whether it does cover PVC has not been tested in Australia to my knowledge.

But the biggest oversight in all these regulations, in my view, is the fact that if the toy is MADE of lead, then there are no limits to the amount of lead in the toy as far as I can work out. Interestingly, in response to our lobbying efforts in 2001, the Treasury asked the importer of lead toy soldiers to voluntarily recall the soldiers after testing found that the soldiers were made of lead. The importer agreed to the voluntary recall - which is lucky because no regulation could have forced a ban as far as I am aware.

The conclusion is that you can put as much lead as you like in a toy or in the PVC coating on a toy manufactured in Australia for supply in NSW and the only regulation that governs lead in toys is the NSW P&TG Regulation which means you can use any house paint on the toy. In other words, NSW children should not be chewing on their toys until a survey is undertaken to determine lead levels in toys supplied in NSW.

The person to write to about ensuring that the SUSDP reference to paint on toys and that regulations limiting the amount of lead in PVC toys and the use of lead metal toys or leaded ceramic (eg tea sets) toys in NSW are incorporated in the NSW P&TG Regulation, is John Lumby, the Director of Pharmaceutical Services, NSW Health Department, or phone 98793214. I'd be very interested to be copied into any letter you write on this issue and to receive a copy of the response. Thanks for asking this important question.

Elizabeth O'Brien,

Also see A factsheet for Australian toy importers and traders

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