Toy Recall


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. 

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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.

The CSPC has recalled a popular children’s board game, Cranium Cadoo.  The dice included with the game, which was manufactured in China, were found to contain unacceptable levels of lead paint.  Games with lot numbers 2007195 through 2007244 are the only ones included in the recall at this point.  The game is packaged in a square cardboard box with an orange background, with the seven digit lot number printed under the plastic tray on the bottom half of the box.  The games were sold at Fred Meyer, Kmart, Shopko, Wal-Mart and other retailers between October 2007 through January 2008 for about $20. 

The CPSC has recalled Tot Tower Toy blocks, imported by eeBoo Corporation of New York.  The blocks were sold in sets of 10 blocks of various sizes.  The product is a toy block made of cardboard, with plastic laminate film coverings depicting images and letters.  There are two reports of the plastic covering detaching from the block in children’s mouths.  No injuries reported so far.  The toy poses a choking hazard for children. 

Tot Tower Toys were sold at various gift and specialty shops nationwide between January 2003 and September 2007. 

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Consumer watchdog groups have issued new warnings for parents, according to a story on CNN.  The groups, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, warn that toys that pose choking hazards and lead hazards are still making it to toy store shelves because of loopholes in the laws that regulate toy safety.  The USPIRG cites weak laws that only clearly bans lead in paint as one example of the loopholes.  The group did research which included purchasing 100 toys at various retailers.  They found high levels of lead in 9 out of the 100 toys, and lead levels they considered dangerous in another 6 toys.

Consumer groups are working on Capital Hill to get Congress to pass legislation to strengthen the CPSC by giving it more authority to act, to raise civil penalties against companies violating the standards, and to allow the CPSC to send out notices quicker.  Consumer groups also want tighter regulations on members of the CPSC taking trips sponsored by the industries they oversee.

The CPSC has issued an article titled the ABC’s of Toy Safety, that outlines key areas parents should be focused on in regard to toy safety.  The following are tips included in the article:

  • Ride-on Toys – Riding toys, skateboards and in-line skates go fast and falls could be deadly. Helmets and safety gear should be sized to fit.
  • Small Parts – For children younger than age three, avoid toys with small parts, which can cause choking.
  • Magnets – For children under age six, avoid building sets with small magnets. If magnets or pieces with magnets are swallowed, serious injuries and/or death can occur.
  • Projectile Toys – Projectile toys such as air rockets, darts and sling shots are for older children. Improper use of these toys can result in serious eye injuries.
  • Chargers and Adapters – Charging batteries should be supervised by adults. Chargers and adapters can pose thermal burn hazards to children.

UPDATE:  Another article on CNN about precautions parents should take in buying toys for their children.

CNN.COM has a story on a new CPSC recall. Aquadots, a popular children’s toy made by Spin Master Toys, was recalled today because the coating on the dots turns into a dangerous date rape drug, gamma hydroxy butyrate, when ingested. The toy is a craft kit which allows children to make multidimensional art by piecing the beads together. Five children, including 2 in the US and three in Australia, have been hospitalized so far.

The US victims slipped into a comatose state and were hospitalized. One of the children has recovered completely, the other child has been released from the hospital and is recovering. 

When ingested by children the beads can cause death, coma, drowsiness, respiratory depression, seizures and unconsciousness.  According to Naren Gunja from Australia’s Poisons Information Center, the drug’s effect on children is “quite serious . . . and potentially life-threatening.”  Because of the potential danger the CPSC has requested that parents take this toy away from children immediately.

CNN also has a story with tips for parents on buying presents for your children this Christmas season.  Some of the tips include doing your own toy research (including checking the CPSC website regularly), take into account your child’s vulnerabilities and tendencies, and get basic with entertainment (buy your child books and music rather than toys).  Good tips in scary times. 

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