Elena Conis, The Los Angeles Times, Health

WASHINGTON – Lead would be virtually banned from toys and other goods used by children younger than six, under bills introduced by Democrats in both chambers of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday following a rash of recalls of lead-contaminated products.

Lead in toys has come under scrutiny by U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups after recent recalls of millions of Chinese-made toys by Mattel Inc <MAT.N> and other companies, due mainly to excessive levels of lead.

Criticizing the "longtime failure" of the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect children from lead, five Democrats including Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a presidential candidate, offered bills in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"Lead in children's products is dangerous and unnecessary," said California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"This is the kind of simple, common-sense action the Consumer Product Safety Commission should have taken years ago," said Waxman.

Waxman was joined in introducing the House bill by Minnesota's Keith Ellison, Illinois' Bobby Rush and Pennsylvania's Christopher Carney. All are Democrats.

Obama introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

"Lead contaminated toys have endangered the lives of millions of our country's children," said Obama. "This legislation will help restore the confidence of the American people that the products they are using are thoroughly inspected and safe."

Just last week, more than half a million Chinese-made children's products were recalled due to dangerous levels of lead paint, including 269,000 of RC2 Corp's <RCRC.O> popular wooden "Thomas & Friends" toy trains.

In June, nearly 1.5 million "Thomas & Friends" trains were recalled due to unsafe levels of lead, which poses a serious health risk to young children if ingested.

Five more companies recalled Chinese-made toys last week. Target Corp <TGT.N> recalled 350,000 gardening toys sold at Target stores nationwide between August 2006 and August 2007, while Jo-Ann Stores Inc <JAS.N> recalled 16,000 toy rakes sold nationwide between January and September of this year.

Other recent lead-related recalls have involved toy jewelry and children's puppet theaters.

None of the companies reported any injuries.

The latest recalls come amid scrutiny of Chinese-made goods following a summer in which millions of toys made there pulled from store shelves worldwide, mostly due to lead paint.

Lead paint ingested by children has been linked to brain damage and learning disabilities.

In 2005 Waxman asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to compose a lead ban on toys, but he said on Wednesday that the Commission had "refused to set a strong, enforceable standard."

The new legislation would limit lead content amounts sharply, banning lead to trace levels in three steps over two years.