Since the news broke earlier this week that Ballard institution Archie McPhee’s may close its doors if a new toxic toy bill is signed, there have been a lot of questions about the bill and its impact. Would McPhee’s really have to close? What’s wrong with reducing toxicity in toys? And is the Sigmund Freud bobblehead really a toy? We asked Archie McPhee’s David Wahl some follow up questions, which follow below…
My Ballard: Reducing lead in children’s toys sounds like a noble endeavor, so what’s wrong with the bill?
David Wahl : Firstly, I just want to say that Archie McPhee complies with already stringent federal product safety guidelines. To make it clear, there are already standards in place. We want to make sure that people understand that this is not about us carrying dangerous toys, it’s about changing the standards in only Washington state that we already have on a federal level. This bill would mean re-testing toys that have already been tested.
The intention behind this bill is great, but I think it would have unintended consequences.
It’s a poorly written bill that doesn’t define child or toy in any concrete way. They actually define “toy” by the intention of the manufacturer, as an object intended to be used by children at play. While none of the items we produce ourselves, under the Accoutrements label, are intended for children, one would be hard pressed to say that a Devil Duckie or a Sigmund Freud Action Figure is not by some definition a toy. Reading the minds of manufacturers about what their intentions are is not a good basis for serious legislation.
Also, it’s written by people that have little or no knowledge of the toy industry or how products are tested. They have actually said that if a product doesn’t contain anything harmful, it doesn’t need to be tested. This is not only untrue, but illogical. How could you determine what a product contains without a test?
The bill also exempts BB guns from having to meet the standards in the bill. You have to question a bill that treats a Yodelling Pickle as more potentially dangerous to a child than a BB gun.
We work very hard to make sure our products are safe and that they fall within federal product safety standards. No one wants to produce toys that are dangerous or that harm anybody.
My Ballard: You’re quoted as saying Archie McPhee’s store would close if the bill, as written, becomes law. Is that really the only alternative?
Wahl: We don’t want to close.
However, if we did stay open it would be in a severely limited form. Even if we try to comply, it will be difficult to know what is required of us. We order products from all over the country and it will be easier for most small and medium-sized manufacturers to simply not sell to customers in Washington rather than change their guidelines for just one state. Washington accounts for less than 2% of the national market for toys. For most companies it will not be worth the expense of the repeated testing that they will have to go through.
So, you will have to drive out of state to buy toys, because no one is going to want to ship them here either.
My Ballard: How much would the law cost the company? How did you estimate that number?
Wahl: The number in the article is slightly out of context. We have over 10,000 items in our store and since the only way to be sure if they meet standards would be to test them all and manufacturers will be unwilling to re-test them, we would have to pay. Each test costs $500. That is $5,000,000. We are obviously not going to pay for the tests, but it puts a number on how much extra expense it would be for everyone involved. (The $500 is from a Wall Street Journal article and is their estimate.)
My Ballard: Has the governor’s office or the state legislature contacted you?
Wahl: We have been contacted by the author of the bill, Rep. Dickerson (who is the state rep. for Ballard). We were unable to make her understand that because her bill is so poorly written and thought out, it would have a huge impact on us, consumers and other toy sellers in Washington state without any meaningful improvement in safety.
It won’t make toys safer, it will just make the many already safe toys harder for people in Washington to buy. And, sadly, the possible end of Archie McPhee.