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Mattel's chief executive apologized to Congress on Wednesday for failing to stop toys coated in lead paint from reaching consumers and vowed to take immediate steps to prevent it from happening again. "I can't change the past, but I am changing how we do things," the executive, Robert A. Eckert, said in testimony before a Senate subcommittee. But senators at the hearing said the safety measures promised by Mr. Eckert and others in the toy industry were inadequate. They proposed a long list of legislative changes that go much further - including increased fines for selling or failing to report dangerous goods, and a prohibition, backed by possible criminal prosecution, against retailers selling recalled products.

"This is getting serious," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat. "It is time for us to take action."

Senators also called for a revamping of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, including giving it the power to ban lead in all children's toys, funds to increase the number of inspectors at ports and compliance officers in the field, and providing better equipment and better staff for the testing laboratory.

Mattel, the nation's largest toy company, and other members of the Toy Industry Association, whose members are collectively responsible for 85 percent of toys sold in the United States, support a federal mandate that toys be tested by independent laboratories before they are sold.

Failure by all parties to properly do such testing has "left our companies, the industry and most importantly our children exposed," Carter Keithley, president of the Toy Industry Association, said in his testimony.

Gerald L. Storch, chairman of Toys "R" Us, said the government and toy manufacturers should find a way to hasten the recall of products after flaws are discovered.

"We are troubled by the possibility that we could be continuing to sell toys that someone knows may have a problem, while we remain unaware until we receive word that a recall is coming," Mr. Storch said.

The hearing took place in a crowded chamber framed by two illustrations propped up behind the senators: one with a photograph of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's sole full-time toy tester in a cramped, poorly equipped laboratory, and a second with a chart showing that most of the consumer products recalled in the United States since December came from China.

Nancy A. Nord, the acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said she agreed with many of the proposals to confront these two problems, acknowledging, for example, that the agency's laboratory in Gaithersburg, Md., is woefully inadequate.

"It is an incredibly inefficient facility," she said of the lab, which is in a 1950s-era former missile defense site outside Washington.

But Democrats and the one Republican senator at the hearing - held by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee - expressed frustration with progress enforcing safety rules, particularly concerning flawed goods from China.

"We need to start pulling the club out," said Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who is a presidential candidate.

Ms. Nord said it would help if Customs and Border Protection, which has a much larger force of inspectors at ports, could do more to help enforce consumer safety laws. "We all understand that Customs' first responsibility is homeland security," she said, but added that her agency had so few employees at ports that it could do little on its own.

Mr. Eckert of Mattel was questioned about allegations that his company intentionally delayed notifying United States authorities about initial reports that some of its toys contained lead.

He acknowledged that one initial report about lead contamination of a toy destined for a retailer in France may not have been reported, as the company believed it had intercepted the product before it reached the market, and that this item was not being sold in the United States.

Mattel, he said, will now test every batch of its contractors' toys for lead, and require them to buy paint only from approved vendors. Auditors hired by the company will also spot-check contractors' factories in China, he said.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, praised the toy industry for acknowledging that hazardous toys are a real problem.

"There is no corporate denial here," he said. "There is no defensive crouch."

But Mr. Durbin said he was disappointed with Ms. Nord and the safety commission, which he said did not appear to be attacking the problem aggressively enough, including moving too slowly to institute and enforce a ban on lead in children's jewelry.

He also mocked a new agreement with Chinese officials to block lead in toys, saying that the Chinese government told his office the policy had long been in place.

What is clear, Mr. Durbin said, is that the consumer product regulatory system - which largely relies upon manufacturers, importers and retailers to police themselves and report hazardous products - has not worked well enough.

"Those who have argued for so many years that we have to get government out of our lives understand that there are moments when we need government, when we need someone to make certain that the products on the shelves are always going to be safe," he said at the close of the hearing. "We need to step up to that responsibility."


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