Toy Recall


The CPSC has announced a recall of 12 million drinking glasses sold at McDonald’s restaurants over the last couple of months, according to a story in the New York Times.  The glasses were a part of the promotion of the new movie Shrek Forever, which came out in May.  The glasses feature different characters from the movie and contain cadmium. 

Cadmium is a known carcinogen and can induce several types of cancer. Industrial exposures to cadmium can cause metal fume fever in workers and can progress to pneumonitis, pulmonary edema and even death.  Long term cadmium exposures have been shown to cause kidney disease and softening of the bones.  In the case of the Shrek glasses, children could receive long-term exposures from using the glasses on a daily basis.  Recently, cadmium was found in metal jewelry manufactured in China and sold at various retailers such as Wal-Mart and Claires. 

China continues to bombard our children with dangerous chemicals, from many different sources.  The CPSC needs to be vigilant about this and the lead problems in products coming from China.  Our children’s future health depends on it.

Story on Bloomberg.com reportsMattel has agreed with the CPSC to pay a $2.3 million fine for importing toys containing dangerous levels of lead.  The fine relates to 95 of the company’s toy models, including Barbie toys and “Cars” toys. 

The CPSC reported that Mattel imported 900,000 toys between September 2006 and August 2007 that violated lead standards.  These products were imported from China.  As a result of these findings, Mattel recalled more than 21 million toys made in China, after they were found to contain high levels of lead or dangerous designs.

The lead situation is not the only problem related to Chinese imports.  As reported here, there have been recent recalls of dangerous Chinese milk products and medical products.

The CPSC issued a recall on State Farm Good Neigh Bears, a promotional item given away by State Farm agents and at State Farm events from September 2005 to March 2007.  It is estimated 800,000 of these bears were given away during this time period.  The bears pose a choking hazard to young children, as the plastic eyes can come off and lodge in a child’s throat.

Of course, the bears were made in China.  Consumers are requested to throw the bears away.

The CPSC has issued a warning regarding Simplicity 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 Convertible “Close Sleeper” model bassinets.  The CPSC has received reports of two infants strangling to death in the metal bars on the bassinet.  One death occurred in September of 2007 and one happened in August 2008. 

Simplicity Inc. was recently purchased by SFCA, Inc., which has refused to issue a recall of the product, because it claims to have no responsibility for products produced by Simplicity, Inc. before the purchase.  The CPSC voted, using its new authorities in the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, to release this warning upon making a finding that public health and safety requires immediate notice.  The CPSC urges all consumers to share this safety warning with day care centers, consignment stores, family and friends to ensure that no child is placed to sleep in one of the Simplicity convertible bassinets covered under this warning.

The CSPC announced a recall on Electra “Amsterdam” model bicycles.  The interior alignment tabs of the bicycle’s chainguard can push against the chain, causing the chain to derail.  This can pose a serious risk of injury to riders.  Amsterdam model bicycles in the Classic 3, Original 3, Royal 8, and Sport 3 styles are involved in the recall.  The bikes were sold nationwide from January 2007 through June 2008 for between $400 and $850 at authorized Electra dealers.  This is the second Electra bike recall.  The total number of bikes involved in both recalls tops 10,000.  Electra has received a report of injuries related to this defect.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Senate approved a new bill that would remove toxic chemicals from toys and put new enforcement measures in place to ensure hazardous products don’t make it to the marketplace.  The bill bans lead from kid’s products and toys, and also bans dangerous phthalates, such as diisononyl phthalate (DINP) from use in infant and toddler products.  Phthalates are a type of chemical used in soft plastics which are used to make products including teethers and pacifiers.

The bill will require toymakers to send their products to indepedent labs for testing before the products hit the marketplace.  The bill also restricts the use of earth magnets in toys, a practice that has caused serious injuries to children over the past several years, including a death. 

The give the law teeth, the bill will double funding for the CPSC, the government agency charged with policing products and pulling dangerous products from the market.  In the wake of the toy recalls of the past several years, the CPSC has increasingly come under scrutiny as ineffective and slow to act.  The law authorizes state attorney generals to help the CPSC enforce the federal product safety laws, and they will be able to take manufacturers who bring dangerous products into the marketplace to court, to take dangerous products out of the stream of commerce.

The bill provides for steeper penalties for manufacturers who violate the new safety laws.  The new fines go as high as $15 million, where the old fines topped out at $1.8 million.  It is hoped the new measures will ease the minds of parents who have in recent years been hammered by product recall after product recall.

According to a report on the Age.com.au, remote control cars containing asbestos parts and manufactured in China, were sold on E-Bay to consumers in Australia.  The E-Bay seller, Topwincn, apparently advertised the cars as containing “super thick asbestos brake blocks”. 

According to E-Bay’s records, Australian consumers purchased several of the asbestos-containing cars.  E-Bay claimed the asbestos containing products were removed from the website when they were notified the toys might contain asbestos.  A spokesman for E-Bay stated: “eBay has a zero tolerance for illegal items and (has) sophisticated systems in place and people working to pick up and remove these sorts of items”. 

The models that included asbestos include:  4WD Speed Sonic 2005 RC Car Model 94102; HSP Atomic Warhead Nitro Buggy Models 94105 and 94106; 2007 Hi-Speed Nitro/Gas Tyrannosaurus Monster Truck Model 94108; Gas Powered RC Car Model Frc-10; Gas Powered 4WD RC Truck Model Frc-08.

Reuters reports that suit has been filed against CBS, the toy maker – Planet Toys, and retail toy sellers, regarding the “CSI Crime Scene Investigation” toy crime fighting kit.  The lawsuit alleges the fingerprint dusting powder contains deadly amounts of tremolite asbestos.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen.  It is a mineral that was used heavily in this country during the middle of the last century.  Asbestos was used as thermal insulation by workers in industrial plants and shipyards, and as a brake lining by mechanics in garages all across the US.  Asbestos was used in households across the country as well.  Vinyl flooring contained asbestos, joint compound used on sheetrook contained asbestos, popcorn on ceilings contained asbestos, and transite siding on the outside of houses contained asbestos.  There were even unfortunate areas of the country where asbestos was used to pave roads and driveways.  The death toll from asbestosis, a lung disease caused by asbestos, as well as asbestos related cancers such as lung cancer and mesothelioma is astronomical.

Planet Toys has issued a “stop sale” on their toys.  They claim that none of their testing on the toy was positive for asbestos.  The original testing, which found the asbestos in the product, was done by the non-profit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.  The ADAO filed suit to halt the sale of the toys and allow customers who purchased the toys to receive a refund. 

Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group has issued a press release criticizing the CPSC and calling for Congressional action on the problem.  The group claims the CPSC waits months to tell consumers about hazardous and dangerous products.  This is the text of the press release:

Recalls of Hazardous Goods Often Take More Than Three Years to Begin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite a law requiring manufacturers to provide the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with “immediate” notification of dangerous products, the agency typically delays nearly seven months after learning of dangerous, defective products before telling the public, a Public Citizen study of CPSC settlements published in the Federal Register reveals.

The study, “Hazardous Waits: CPSC Lets Crucial Time Pass Before Warning Public About Dangerous Products,” covers 46 cases since 2002 in which the CPSC fined manufacturers for failing to adhere to the law requiring prompt reporting. In addition, companies fined for tardy reporting took an average of 993 days – 2.7 years – between learning of a safety defect in their products and notifying the CPSC. Because the agency publishes information about only those settlement agreements in which penalties are imposed, details about other delays and recalls are not publicly available.

Perhaps as shocking, the CPSC then took an average of 209 additional days before disclosing the information to the public – even though each case concerned a product defect so dangerous that the item was recalled. Under current law, the CPSC cannot disclose information about dangerous products without court approval or manufacturer agreement.

The products included coffee makers and vacuum cleaners prone to catching fire, treadmills that spontaneously accelerated to an Olympic miler’s pace, all-terrain vehicles with throttles that became stuck in the “go” position, bicycles with forks that could break under normal use, and infant swings that could cause strangulation and were implicated in the deaths of six infants.

“There’s no excuse for manufacturers waiting nearly three years before telling the CPSC about a defective product that can kill people – or for the CPSC taking another seven months to negotiate a recall and warn the public,” said Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. “Manufacturers now have the power to hamstring the agency. Given these inordinate delays, the law must be changed to allow the agency to inform consumers and give it enough money, authority and enforcement muscle.”

Details of the settlement agreements reveal that manufacturers have taken a cavalier attitude toward the disclosure law. In addition to failing to notify the CPSC of safety defects – often after receiving hundreds of notices from their customers – many manufacturers withheld key details from the agency when they finally did file. These details included customer complaints about products, efforts to redesign products to resolve design flaws and information about the death of a consumer.

Although the CPSC fined manufacturers for late reporting, the agency itself was slow in providing the same information to the public. For example, the agency received a report in February 2001 about an all-terrain vehicle with an oil line subject to disconnecting and spewing steaming oil on its driver and surroundings. The defect was eventually blamed for injuring 18 people, some with serious burns, and causing 42 fires. But the CPSC did not tell consumers until April 2003 – more than two years after the manufacturer informed it of the hazard.

One major cause of delay is the manufacturers’ ability to sue the agency to block public disclosure of information about hazards. The mere threat of lawsuits deters the agency from acting.

“It is ridiculous that the CPSC has to obtain manufacturers’ consent before informing the public about hazardous products,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.    “The nation’s product safety agency shouldn’t have to ask for permission to do its job. The law must be changed.”

Among Public Citizen’s findings:

  • Graco waited 11 years to report its faulty infant swing, which was linked to reports of 181 falls that resulted in six deaths and nine serious injuries, including bone fractures and concussions. Graco made the report only after CPSC staff contacted the company.
  • Hoover waited five years to report a vacuum cleaner with a faulty switch that had caused at least 96 fires. The CPSC then took another 279 days before negotiating a recall and informing the public.
  • By February 2000, Polaris Industries had received 1,147 reports of faulty oil lines on its ATV, including 42 instances where the hot oil started a fire and 18 cases in which the oil seriously burned a rider. But the company didn’t report the defect to the CPSC for another year.

The CPSC relies on prompt and thorough reporting by manufacturers because the agency conducts little independent testing and inspects few products. Public Citizen’s findings illustrate the need for Congress to give the agency more authority and resources. In crafting legislation to reauthorize the CPSC, which is currently under negotiation in Congress, lawmakers should:

  • Provide the CPSC with the freedom to inform the public about risks promptly. Currently, the CPSC cannot act unilaterally to inform the public about hazards without risking lawsuits by manufacturers. Congress should give the agency the ability to provide critical information to the public without undue interference and delays by industry.
  • Grant authority to levy higher fines and seek effective criminal penalties. The CPSC’s current cap on civil penalties of $1.8 million per violation of reporting requirements is a pittance compared to the cost of conducting recalls. This gives companies an incentive to leave the agency in the dark about defects. Congress should eliminate the cap or raise it to at least $100 million per violation.
  • Provide the CPSC with a significantly larger budget and staff. The agency received a meager $63 million in 2007 to protect the public from dangers posed by millions of products. Congress should boost it to at least $150 million.
  • Give state attorneys general broader enforcement powers. A major criticism of the CPSC is its failure to enforce the law effectively. Congress should allow state attorneys general to enforce the law and give them authority to seek all of the remedies available to the CPSC.

RC2 Brands, maker of Thomas the Tank Engine, has agreed to a $30million settlement in a lawsuit filed by parents who purchased lead tainted Thomas toys, according to a story on CNN.  Last June the company recalled one and a half million Thomas products, due to high levels of lead paint.  Small doses of lead can cause brain damage in children, a large dose could kill a child.  The settlement requires RC2 Brands to offer consumers a combination of cash refunds, replacement toys, plus a “bonus toy”.  The settlement also requires the company to implement better quality control standards to prevent toys containing lead paint from reaching the marketplace again.

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