NEW YORK (AP) -- Hundreds of garment workers, small-business owners and manufacturers rallied in front of Macy's flagship store to protest a new anti-lead law they say will cost them jobs and profits.
The Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act was passed last summer. It mandates that all items sold for use by children under 12 -- from clothes, toys and shoes to parts such as zippers and buttons -- be tested for lead and phthalates, chemicals used to make plastics more pliable.
All untested items, regardless of lead content, are to be declared "banned hazardous products."
Concerns over the new rules, which go into effect next week, already have prompted the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue a one-year stay of enforcement for certain testing and certification requirements.
Congress passed the act, the world's toughest lead standard, after U.S. officials recalled millions of tainted toys made in China.
Lead can get into clothing through dyes used in the manufacturing, which may contain lead acetate that acts as a fixative. Lead poisoning can cause neurological damage and kidney disease.
The protest in front of the city's largest department store Tuesday was organized by the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Childrenswear, which represents hundreds of manufacturers and family business workers.
The coalition says the new rules would cost New York thousands of jobs and drive companies out of business.
Coalition members said manufacturing practices already have been changed to comply with the new standards. But they have been lobbying Congress to ease a retroactive provision of the law they claim will force them to pull $500 million worth of products from shelves.
In passing the act, Congress had asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission, whose role is to protect the public from dangerous goods, to come up with precise methods on how and by whom products should be tested and certified, independently of manufacturers.
Last Friday, the commission extended the deadline for testing requirements by a year, to Feb. 10, 2010, while the original act passed last year goes into effect.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., called the current situation "chaotic" and said the commission has left sellers "in limbo."
"Without the regulations in place for how to do the testing and how to certify that something is lead-free, the stay will have no effect, because retailers won't risk putting anything on their shelves that could contain lead," Weiner said. "The problem remains that it is illegal to sell anything with lead in it."
Steve Levy, of Star Ride Kids, a sportswear wholesaler, said the coalition is not asking for "special treatment or government bailouts."
"All we are asking for is some common sense," Levy said. "At the exact moment when Congress is debating an $800 billion economic rescue bill, it should be looking for every opportunity to create jobs -- not kill them."