Toy Recalls Spur Defective Toy Lawsuits, Calls to Reform CPSCNov 21, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP
Toy Recalls have become routine this year. So far, over six million toys have been recalled because of lead; the highest number ever due to product defects. Defective toy lawsuits now 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 and many were sold without warning labels of possible choking hazards several times this year.
Lead is known to cause cancer and reproductive harm and can cause mental and physical retardation and behavioral and other health problems in children. In adults, lead can damage the nervous system. But lead isn’t the only problem according to two consumer investigations—toys with small parts can pose choking hazards, while those with small magnets can also cause intestinal injuries. Unfortunately that message is not coming from governmental agencies, as these sorts of messages should.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (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 CPSC 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
Meanwhile, California Attorney General Jerry Brown sued 20 companies Monday for selling toys with unlawful quantities of lead and failing to warn the public of health dangers. Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo joined the suit and additional suits were filed by the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Law Foundation, and As You Sow.
California is seeking labeling of toys made with unsafe levels of lead as part of the state's “Right-to-Know” law aimed at embarrassing businesses into removing toxic chemicals from their products. The federal government doesn't require manufacturers and retailers to disclose this information but does have laws limiting how much lead can be used in such products. The Center for Environmental Health recently discovered of 100 toys tested for lead, nine contained high levels of 900 parts per million or more and six had levels higher than 100 parts per million. 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. They also support a similar bill called the Consumer Product Safety Modernization Act to be heard in the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
The Chinese government recently signed agreements to help prevent lead-painted toys from reaching the U.S. and toys are undergoing more inspection and re-testing which may lead to more CPSC recalls before year's end.