Firm Fined Over Lead-Tainted "Thomas & Friend" ToysDec 30, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
RC2 Corp., of Oak Brook, Illinois has agreed to pay a $1.25 million civil penalty for allegedly violating the federal lead paint ban, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) just announced.
The penalty settlement, which has been provisionally accepted by the Commission, resolves CPSC staff allegations that RC2 Corp. and one of its wholly-owned subsidiaries, Learning Curve Brands Inc., knowingly—as defined by the Consumer Product Safety Act—imported and sold various Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway toys with paints or other surface coatings that contained lead levels above legal limits.
In 1978, a federal ban was put in place that prohibited toys and other children’s articles from having more than 0.06 percent lead—by weight—in paints or surface coatings. As a result of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, the regulatory limit was reduced to 0.009 percent on August 14, 2009.
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 known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and, in adults, can damage the nervous system. Once poisoned by lead, no organ system is immune. 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.
CPSC staff alleged that RC2 failed to take adequate action to ensure that the toys would comply with the lead paint ban. This failure created a risk of lead poisoning and adverse health effects to children.
In May 2007, RC2 reported that more than two dozen styles of vehicles, buildings, and other train set components from the Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway product line were determined to have paints with lead levels that exceeded the then-applicable regulatory limit of 0.06 percent. Later, in August and September 2007, RC2 further reported that five additional toys from this product line were determined to have exceeded this limit.
This civil penalty settles the following allegations:
- RC2 imported up to 1.5 million units of non-compliant Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway toys between January 2005 and June 2007, and distributed them to its retail customers for sale to U.S. consumers. These toys were recalled in June 2007 (see the recall notice at: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07212.html).
- RC2 imported up to 200,000 units of five additional non-compliant toys from this product line between March 2003 and April 2007, and distributed them to its retail customers for sale to U.S. consumers. In September 2007, the original June 2007 recall was expanded to include these additional units (expanded recall notice can be accessed at: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml07/07308.html).
“The highly publicized recall of Thomas & Friends™ Wooden Railway toys was a catalyst for Congressional action aimed at strengthening CPSC and making the lead-in-paint limits under federal law even stricter,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. The settlement also resolves other potential matters. In agreeing to the settlement, RC2 denies that it knowingly violated federal law, as alleged by CPSC staff.
Meanwhile, in 2007, over six million toys were recalled because of lead; the highest number ever due to product defects. Potentially dangerous toys remained on store shelves several times during that year and by the time that year’s holiday season hit—the busiest selling time for toy companies—the CPSC had recalled 75 brands of toys. Of those, 39 recalls were implemented due to lead exposure.