By JANE KAY
San Francisco Chronicle
August 15, 2007
"We have begun the rule-making process to ban lead in all children's products," Maryanne McGerty-Sieber, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, Md., told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We've begun to see recall after recall, and our goal is to make the products in the marketplace safe."
The agency's statement follows an announcement Tuesday by Mattel, the world's largest toymaker, that its own investigation revealed that its "Sarge" cars, featured in the Disney-Pixar movie "Cars," contain lead levels above the federal limit.
Lead is so toxic that even exposure to the lowest levels can impair a child's IQ and cause other neurological problems, scientists say.
The company is recalling 436,000 cars worldwide, 253,000 of them sold in the United States. The "Sarge" car is made by Mattel under license from Disney.
Mattel also announced Tuesday the recall of more than 9 million other toys that contain small magnets that could come loose and be swallowed by children. The recall regarding magnets involves 63 varieties of toys sold before January, including some Polly Pocket, Doggie Day Care, Batman and Barbie toys.
On Aug. 2, Fisher-Price, a Mattel company, recalled 967,000 toys in 83 lines, all because of illegal amounts of lead.
Most of the toys in both recalls were made in China, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
McGerty-Sieber said she wasn't certain how long it would take to adopt a ban on toys containing lead. The agency has been criticized by consumer-watchdog groups as not having rules strict enough to protect the public and not enforcing the ones they have. Scientists have known for 90 years that any dose of lead is toxic to the developing brain and that the effects are more dramatic at higher doses. In the United States, lead has been banned over decades in gasoline, paint, faucets, pipes and other consumer products.
But the influx of global imports has brought dangerous lead products to the U.S. market with little or no oversight. Such products have included children's jewelry and vinyl lunch boxes and baby bibs that contain lead.
Children typically get exposed when they put toys in their mouths or handle the toys and put their hands in their mouths. Last year, a 4-year-old boy died in Minneapolis after swallowing a charm on a bracelet containing dangerous amounts of lead.
At the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Dr. Leo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment, called the federal agency's intent to ban lead in children's products "a prudent and cost-effective measure that would benefit everyone around the world."
In Oakland, Calif., the 10-year-old nonprofit Center for Environmental Health has been a leader in pressuring manufacturers to remove lead from children's jewelry and lunch boxes, suing under California's anti-toxin law known as Proposition 65.
The group has settled with Igloo Products Corp., Walgreen Co., Cool Gear International, Big Dogs, Baby Universe and Ingear, among other companies, after they promised to remove lead in the vinyl in lunch boxes. Lead is sometimes used as a stabilizer in vinyl.
The group also sued about 90 companies, including Target, K-Mart, Macy's, Nordstrom and Walgreens, more than two years ago, ultimately gaining an agreement from the businesses to stop selling or making lead-contaminated children's jewelry.
In 2005, the group discovered in testing that the Princess bracelet, carrying an image of the Disney character, contained lead at 275 times the federal standard. A Disney spokesman in Burbank, Calif., Gary Foster, said Tuesday that it was the manufacturer's responsibility -- not Disney's -- to recall the product. Monogram International, which licenses the right to use the Disney character, didn't recall the bracelet until five months after the nonprofit group went public with its findings.
Disney, which licenses the "Sarge" character to Mattel, will use its own product-safety division to make sure that licensees like Mattel put procedures in place so future recalls aren't necessary, Foster said.
Charles Margulin, communications director for the Center for Environmental Health's anti-lead campaign, isn't impressed by the Consumer Products Safety Commission's announcement that it's starting a process to ban lead.
"It's well past time to be 'starting' that process," said Margulin. "Two years ago, they put out an 'interim enforcement policy' on lead in children's jewelry and said they'd start work on an agency rule. They still don't have one."
Meanwhile, Illinois already enacted a policy that prohibits the sale of toys, clothing, jewelry or any other product intended to be used by children that contains lead in excess of 600 parts per million anywhere in the product, he said.
Asked if it would support a rule banning lead in children's products, Disney spokesman Foster said the company doesn't have a response right now: "We don't know how realistic it is."
Mattel officials didn't respond to the question.
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Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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