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California Settles Lead Toy Lawsuit

Dec 8, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Late last week, eight toy makers agreed, as part of a prolonged investigation and legal dispute, to pay $1.8 million and limit lead amounts in consumer products, reports the LA Times.  The settlement ends an environmental lawsuit initiated by the state of California and the city of Los Angeles by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, said the LA Times.  Brown, filed the complaint last year against 17 toy makers, telling the LA Times that, "These consumer protection agreements will safeguard California's children from lead-contaminated toys this Christmas.  Putting these agreements into effect immediately is absolutely critical because so many toys are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

The agreement requires lead levels remain under federal mandates taking effect in early 2009, said the LA Times, and the groups sued must also pay:  $550,000 into a fund that tests toys for lead and works to improve recall outreach, $460,000 to repay government agencies for environmental enforcement efforts, and $548,000 in civil penalties and other legal fees. The Seattle Times pointed out that as part of the agreement, the companies must “reformulate” their products to comply with the upcoming 2009 mandates.  In addition to Mattel and its subsidiaries, for instance, Fisher-Price Inc., the settlement includes RC2 Corp., A&A Global Industries Inc., Cranium Inc., Eveready Battery Company, Marvel Entertainment Inc., Toy Investments Inc., Kids II Inc., and Amscan Inc., said the LA Times.

The case was pursued under Proposition 65—California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act—a voter-approved 1986 initiative, said the LA Times, which noted the action followed a glut of recalls involving an array of products imported from China and other countries containing high lead levels.  The San Francisco Chronicle noted that, in 2007, Brown and LA DA Rocky Delgadillo sued 20 manufacturers and retailers including Toys R Us, Kmart, and Wal-Mart, claiming they violated the Proposition.  Eight other toy makers and sellers not covered by the settlement are part of other suits and include Costco Wholesale Corporation; KB Toys Inc.; Sears Holdings Corporation, and its subsidiary Kmart Corporation; Michaels Store Inc.; Target Corporation; Toys R Us; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., according to the LA Times.

The Insurance Journal pointed to the Congressionally passed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act passed this past August, and while federal lead regulations currently only apply to paint on toys, notes the SF Chronicle, the Act has been expanded to include toy parts.  The Chronicle noted that some nonprofit organizations last week found that 20 percent of 1,500 toys tested contained lead.  

In children and fetuses, lead exposure can cause brain and nervous system damage, behavioral and learning problems, slowed growth, hearing problems, headaches, mental and physical retardation, and behavioral and other health problems.  Lead is also known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, lead can damage the nervous system.  Once poisoned by lead, no organ system is immune.  Unfortunately, lead poisoning is difficult to recognize because it manifests with subtle symptoms and there are no definitive indicators that point to contamination.  When faced with peculiar symptoms that do not match any one particular disease, lead poisoning should be considered.


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