The Associated Press reports that El Segundo-headquartered Mattel Inc. has been granted an exemption from a federal law requiring that toy makers have their products tested for lead content at third-party laboratories. Instead, the makers of Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels will be allowed to test its products in-house at Mattel's own labs. The story, which was carried in the L.A. Times and Long Beach Press-Telegram, claims that Consumer Product Safety Commission “quietly” granted Mattel's request to self-test its products after concluding that “Mattel proved its case that its labs were insulated from undue corporate influence.” Mattel's labs are located in Mexico, China, Indonesia and California.

Last year, following a wave of discoveries about lead-contaminated toys, Congress passed a law mandating that, among other requirements, plastic toys made for children under the age of 12 be evaluated by independent laboratories. Now, the consumer protection agency charged with enforcing that program has let Mattel police itself — even though Mattel recalled six toys, involving two million units, for lead contamination in 2007 and last June paid a $2.3 million fine for violating a ban on using lead paints.

Michael Green, executive director of the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health, is quoted by AP as saying Mattel's getting a pass to test its own toys gives the company a major economic advantage over smaller companies that must pay high fees to independent labs. The CEH, ironically, is the recipient of penalty money paid by Mattel to California's Toy Testing and Outreach Fund. The fund grew out of a successful lawsuit

filed in 2007 by state attorney General Jerry Brown and L.A. city attorney Rocky Delgadillo. CEH has used the money to offer free lead testing of toys to Bay Area consumers.

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