SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — The 2007 holiday season was one of frightened parents, and a lot of disappointed children. Just as Americans hit the stores for the shopping rush, millions of the hottest toys of the year were pulled from shelves because of high lead levels.

Not only did that wave of toxic toys grab parents’ attention in 2007, lawmakers took action. Congress signed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in August of 2008. It gave the Consumer Product Safety Commission more money and more authority to oversee toy safety.

Four years later, that effort is producing a safer holiday shopping season.

New and improved safety inspections are underway at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport. More than 7,000 cargo ships arrive in this port each year, stacked with more than 14 million containers. Most of them are packed with goods from China.

Customs and border protection officers start by locating shipments from manufacturers with a history of violations. The merchandise is taken to a massive warehouse so secret, its location is classified, to ensure the safety of the shipments and the people who work there.

One box at a time, inspectors take random samples. Using an infrared spectrometer, they test for high levels of lead and phthalates. The infrared spectrometer is equipment inspectors did not have in 2007. It allows them to field test any toy, right out of the box, in about 30 seconds.

If a sample fails the field test, the entire set of goods will sit in quarantine while more detailed tests are performed at a lab on the East coast. If results confirm the violation, the entire shipment will be destroyed.

The inspections using the new technology are being performed in Los Angeles and Seattle on a trial basis, but the early results are promising. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, recalls dropped from 172 in 2008 to 44 last year.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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