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Lead-Tainted Thomas & Friends, Curious George Toys Recalled Six Years After Toy Maker Learned of Hazard

Aug 13, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

Last week, Massachusetts toymaker Schylling Associates said it was recalling 51,000 spinning tops from its Thomas & Friends, Curious George and Schylling Circus brands of toys for lead paint contamination. The company is also recalling 4,700 metal pails for the same reason.    Schylling is the second toymaker in less than a month to issue a toy recall because of a lead hazard.   On August 1, toy giant Fisher-Price issued a world wide recall for more than 1 million toys because they too were manufactured with lead paint.  These incidents are occurring with such frequency, that many parents are beginning to worry if anything in their child’s toy box is safe.

Schylling Associates is recalling the tops and pails after tests commissioned by the Chicago Tribune found that wooden handles on the tops contained 40 times more lead than is permitted by law in children’s toys.  But what is disturbing about this recall is that Schylling knew about the lead contamination as early as 2002, but did not issue a consumer recall.   Many of  these lead-tainted toys are still circulation.   In fact, the  Chicago Tribune did not even purchase new toys for its investigation into Schylling Associates.  Rather, the toys the Tribune tested had been purchased used on EBay.  Over the past six years, millions of children could have been exposed to the lead hazard posed by these items.

In the course of its investigation, the Chicago Tribune obtained documents that showed that in 2002 , Schylling tested the toys and found that they had high levels of lead.  But Schylling never informed the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) of the problem, even though federal law requires that companies notify the commission within 24 hours of discovering a product defect.  A representative from Schylling maintained that once the company knew of the lead paint hazard, it directed the Chinese factory  that made the toys to replace the wooden painted parts with plastic.  

Schylling also maintains that when it discovered lead paint on its pails in 2002, it contacted retailers and removed about 83-percent of the tainted products from store shelves.  But that means that 17-percent of the lead painted toys made it into the hands of children. Though Schylling was again obligated to report this problem to the CPSC, a search of the commission’s website lists no recall notices for Schylling toys at that time.  In response to the Tribune investigation, Schylling issued a statement saying that it felt that its action regarding the lead contamination “was an appropriate and effective remedy”.  But federal law says that such decisions regarding recalls are to be made by the CPSC.

Lead-tainted children’s toys have become a huge problem in the past year.  Lead was all but banned by the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s, and most parents believed that this hazard had been eliminated from toys.  But recent events prove otherwise.  Just two weeks ago, Fisher-Price, one of the most trusted toymakers in the world, recalled a million toys for lead paint contamination.  And last week, it was revealed that despite a two-year CPSC program to eradicate the problem of lead in children’s jewelry, such items were still being found in stores.  And earlier this year, toy company RC2 issued a recall for more than a million Thomas the Tank Engine toys for a lead paint hazard.  In the wake of all these recalls, many parents are left to wonder if  a seemingly innocent toy could hold serious danger for their child.

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