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Mattel Faces Lawsuit Over Lead Tainted Toys

Aug 21, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP Mattel, Inc. is facing the first of what could be many lawsuits stemming from this month’s massive toy recall.  The class action lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is seeking money from the company in order to facilitate the testing of thousands of children for possible lead exposure.

Last week, Mattel recalled 436,000 die-cast toy cars from its “Cars” line because paint used on the toys contained excessive amounts of lead.  That toy recall was part of a larger action taken by Mattel that included 9 million magnetic play sets.  The play sets were recalled because the small magnets could come loose and cause serious intestinal injuries in children if they were swallowed.

This latest lead paint recall came on the heels of another such action by Mattel’s Fisher-Price division on August 1.   At that time, Fisher-Price recalled more than a million toys because they were also made with lead paint.  That recall encompassed more than 80 different toys and toy sets, and included toys based on characters from popular TV shows like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants.  

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause serious health problems.  Under current regulations, children’s products with more than 0.6 percent lead accessible to the user are subject to recall.  Lead exposure is especially dangerous for children because they are still growing, and their brains are developing.   If lead is ingested, it can cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and even death. Symptoms of lead poisoning include irritability; loss of appetite; weight loss; sluggishness; abdominal pain; vomiting; constipation and pallor from anemia.  However, there are often no signs that a child has been exposed to lead, and a blood test is often the only way to detect lead exposure.  The large number of lead-painted toys that Mattel recalled could have exposed hundreds of thousands of small children to the toxic metal.  

Mattel is only one of several companies to issue recalls of lead painted toys.  Earlier this year, the RC2 company recalled millions of Thomas the Tanks Engine toys because they were made with lead paint.  Lead paint has also been a problem in children’s jewelry.  Earlier this month, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced that such lead-tainted jewelry and trinkets were still being found on store shelves, despite a two-year effort by the commission to eradicate the problem.

To date, all of the lead painted toys have been made in China, which produces 80 percent of the toys sold in the US.  Chinese manufacturers face tremendous pressure to produce goods at low cost, causing many to cut corners and employ shoddy manufacturing techniques.  Lead paint is cheap and durable, making it an attractive choice for unscrupulous manufacturers.   China does nothave an effective system for inspecting manufactured goods, making it easy for lead-painted toys to slip into the US.  Recently, China has made an effort to crack down on tainted products, but it could be years before the country has a strong system of inspections.  

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