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New York Toy Survey Finds Lead Tainted Toys Remain on Store Shelves

Dec 11, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Lead tainted toys are still being stocked by stores in New York, says the state’s Consumer Protection Board.  After a rash of national toy recalls this year, Governor Eliot Spitzer ordered a statewide investigation that revealed some dangerous toys with unsafe lead levels were still available; Spitzer also called for retailers to improve their responses to recalls.  Inspectors visited 2,800 stores and found about 620 recalled toys still on shelves, Spitzer said Monday.  Over six million toys have been recalled this year because of lead; the highest number ever due to product defects and lawsuits include Fisher-Price; Michaels Stores; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; Costco Wholesale; Eveready Battery; KMart; and Marvel Entertainment for Ernie, Elmo, Big Bird, SpongeBob, and Thomas the Train products.  Yet, potentially dangerous toys remain on store shelves.

The recent review identified three additional toys—all made in China and sold in dollar stores—containing excessive lead in their paint:  The Army Force car set imported by Encore Sales of Ontario, Canada; the green and orange Sprite Tractor Trailer toys; and Wrestle Mania action figures distributed by AA of America.  Spitzer called on the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to issue a national recall of these toys, asking the agency to draft legislation to punish businesses selling recalled products and tightening recall standards for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers.  Not long ago, the Chinese government signed agreements to help prevent lead-painted toys from reaching the U.S.  Toys continue to undergo more inspection and re-testing which may lead to even more CPSC recalls before year's end.

About 5,000 children are diagnosed with lead poisoning in New York yearly, generally from lead paint in older housing, according to the governor's office.  Exposure to lead in children and unborn children 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.  But lead isn’t the only problem according to two consumer investigations—toys with small parts and small magnets can pose choking hazards.

The CPSC has been harshly criticized for being influenced by the companies it regulates.  Incomprehensively, high-level officials accepted free trips paid for by the industries they were charged to oversee.  The agency argues that they are constrained by a small budget and legal issues and that staff has dropped to an all-time low.  The House and Senate are considering legislation to overhaul the product safety system by increasing CPSC's budget, raising the cap on civil penalties, and giving the CPSC authority to provide quicker public notice of potentially dangerous products.  The measure also seeks to ban officials from taking trips financed by the industries they oversee.

Consumer advocates feel all lead should be banned from toys and support parts of a bill known as the CPSC Reform Act, designed to prevent unsafe toys from reaching stores. The bill has passed the Senate Commerce Committee and is awaiting further action.

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