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California Sues Toy Makers Over Lead

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, November 19, 2007 11:41 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Defective and Dangerous Products, Recalls

Here is the Consumer Product Safety Commission search page on specific recalls, where you can search by product type, company, product description, and product hazard (such as lead).  For more on lead poisoning, see the InjuryBoard page on lead.
California Attorney General Jerry Brown and the Los Angeles city attorney have filed suit against toymakers that have distributed products with an “unlawful” quantity of lead.

Filed in Alameda County Superior Court, the lawsuit against 20 toymakers says companies knowingly exposed consumers to contaminants that cause cancer and reproductive harm and did nothing to warn the public.

Brown expects the companies named will be forced to test products for lead paint and monitor factories in foreign countries to prevent toys with excessive lead from being imported.  

In a statement Brown said, “Companies must take every reasonable step to assure that the products they handle are safe for children and their families and fully comply with the laws of California. Despite the lengthening global supply chain, every company that does business in this state must follow the law and protect consumers from lead and other toxic materials.”

The lawsuit filed under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known as Proposition 65, puts the burden for inspecting products for safety on the shoulders of manufacturers and retailers. If they can't comply with state law, it requires companies to post warnings about contaminants their products contain. 

The suit names Mattel Inc. the country’s largest toy manufacturer, Toys R Us Inc, RC2 Corporation,  Fisher-Price (Mattel)  Michael's Stores, Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, KB Toys, Costco Wholesale, A&A Global Industries, Eveready Battery Company,  Kids II,  Kmart, Marvel Entertainment, Toy Investments.

Under Proposition 65, states can penalize a polluter up to $2,500 per day for each of the millions of contaminated items. It is up to a judge to decide what constitutes a violation.

This years recalls of six million toys includes lunch boxes, dolls and action figures trains and trucks containing toxic chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.  

Following those recalls, the Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Law Foundation and the non-profit group, As You Sow notified the attorney general they too planned to sue. The AG’s action essentially names the state as the plaintiff taking over those actions.

Mattel has been in conversations with the AG’s office since last summer and says it plans to fully cooperate and says the involvement will be “beneficial to all parties.”

"The use of paint with impermissible levels of lead by certain subcontractors was a clear violation of the company's quality and safety standards," Mattel said in a statement.

Many companies announced plans last summer to tighten up testing for lead in toys that exceeded the standard of 600 parts per million.  Lead paint has been off store shelves since 1978 and has been listed by California as a toxic material since 1987.

While Mattel, which makes 80 percent of its toys in China, said it would batch test every toy it made, the company also reportedly took months to report the problem to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

Target, Toys R Us and Walt Disney Co. said they would initiate more stringent oversight and some independent third-party reviews. Wal-Mart says some months ago it initiated “Safety Net Program” and says it’s had 12,000 items pass security checks by third party suppliers and independent labs.   

Whatever toy makers initiate now it may be too late to bring back confidence for this holiday season. Parents are sick of the recall news and those who can't afford wood toys made in the U.S. are venting their frustration online.

A discussion at the Wharton School at Penn State concludes that "Barbie is bulletproof," because consumers soon distance a product from its manufacturer.  

Mattel Inc, (MAT) a California company, saw its stock fall 22 cents to $19.50 Monday. #

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