Consumer advocates are starting the month off right with a recent court victory that has cost the Target Corp. a sobering $600,000 penalty for selling toys with high levels of lead, according to an article in StarTribune.com.

The retail company is just the latest to be taken to task by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which accused the retailer of failing to ensure that the toys it was selling were free from lead-based paint, a known toxicant that can cause brain damage and learning problems in children, according to the EPA.

Other notches on the CPSC’s belt include national toy manufacturer Mattel, which was fined $2.3 million in June for importing and selling lead-tainted children’s items. According to the StarTribune.com, Target is the 39th manufacturer or retailer to be fined during the agency’s 2009 fiscal year, which ended a few days ago. Together the agency has shuffled in an impressive $9.8 million in fines for a full spectrum of safety violations.

Target claims that it did not knowingly break the law, saying that it believed its vendors “did meet our standards and were compliant with all product safety laws when delivered to Target.”

After Target discovered the lead, it quickly recalled suspect toys like its Kool Toyz brand play sets, games from the Anima Bamboo Collection, Happy Giddy gardening tools and Sunny Patch chairs.

But the CPSC wasn’t satisfied. “Everyone in the supply chain should have known better,” said CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, who blamed all parties involved, including foreign manufacturers as well as U.S. retailers who don’t properly vet their products.

To be fair, Target currently does have a contract with a third-party lab that was supposed to test the products for harmful chemicals. Though technically voluntary right now, third-party testing by independent labs will eventually be required due to a new law that was passed recently in response to the lead-toy scares that have come about in the past few years.

The CPSC’s latest victory is proof that the court system may no longer go easy on companies who simply shift the blame to other parties.

“Safety standards keep kids safe. Safety standards can save lives. But we need everyone in the supply chain complying with the standards,” said Wolfson.

Though the new lead law is a step in the right direction to making kids’ toys safe again, it isn’t without its loopholes. According to an MNN article by green parent blogger Jenn Savedge, the certification requirement has been postponed until 2010, which means that parents concerned about chemically-tainted toys have to close their eyes and hope for the best until at least next year.

Still, Wolfson has assured parents that all retailers and manufacturers are expected to follow the law despite the delay, but considering that Target claims to have done the third-party testing and still came up with lead in its toys, it seems that some wrinkles are still in need of being ironed out.

In the meantime, concerned parents should try using HealthyStuff.org, a consumer advocacy site that uses X-ray technology to test products for chemicals such as lead, cadmium, chlorine, arsenic and mercury.

After all, until the government really starts taking product safety seriously, consumers have no choice but to fend for themselves.