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Mattel Toy Recall Evidence that Lead Paint Continues to Threaten Children

Aug 20, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP

With the recent releases of popular movies such as Transformers, Spiderman, and the Pixar movie Cars, toy makers such as Mattel, Fisher Price and Hasbro were anticipating a serious boom in business. They did experience a boom, a serious boom in declining business.

Late week, toy giant Mattel had to recall 9.5 billion toys because of problems with  lead paint hazardous magnets. The toy recall included popular toys such as Barbie dolls, Polly Pocket dolls, and Batman action figures due to the magnets. About one and a half million die cast cars were recalled for high levels of lead.

Lead paint poisoning can affect the brain development of young children. Children age 3 and under are at the biggest risk because they tend to put the toys in their mouths and/or put their contaminated hands in their mouths. It was reported by scientists that even at the lowest levels lead is so toxic that it can impair a child's IQ and cause other neurological problems

Last weeks Mattel recall was the second for that company in as many weeks.   On August 1, Mattel’s Fisher-Price Unit recalled 1 million Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer toys that were sold between May and August 2007 for lead paint contamination. Mattel is trying to put a positive spin on the situation thinking that the company will benefit because they were able to spot the lead paint contamination from internal routine company testing, rather than the problem being discovered by an outside source.

The entire recall fiasco has resulted in a call for change.   Many want to see the inspection process upgraded.   Maryanne McGerty-Sieber, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)  told the San Francisco Chronicle that such changes are in the works, “We have begun the rule-making process to ban lead in all children's products, we've begun to see recall after recall, and our goal is to make the products in the marketplace safe.”

The CPSC will have its work cut out for it, especially because lead paint has not only been found in toys.  On August 15, a California environmental group reported Chinese-made that vinyl bibs sold at Toys R US under the Koala Baby and Especially for Baby labels contain unsafe levels of lead.

Lead has been virtually banned from the U.S. since the 1980’s.  Yet it is easy to see why some toy manufacturers would be tempted to use lead in their paint. First and foremost, it is low cost. It produces really bright and attractive colors. It is also very fast drying and durable, resistant towards mildew and anti-corrosive. Experts also say that lead is also used as a cheap way of making vinyl; it is used as a stabilizer. Overseas manufacturers are under a great deal of pressure to produce cheap goods, something that makes lead paint all the more attractive.

With the recent spat of lead –related recalls, many in Congress are threatening legislative action.  As San Francisco law maker Fiona Ma said at a press conference last Thursday, “These recalls by the manufacturers show that nobody has been watching and monitoring the products that are coming into the country and being sold, obviously, there's some loophole, and faulty products are on our shelves.”

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