TOY JEWELRY CITED
FOR LEAD CONTENT
IN RECORD RECAL
The government will issue a recall of the largest number of products ever, officials said, when it announces that 150 million toy bracelets, rings and necklaces that have been sold around the nation over the last 18 months will be removed by companies or should be discarded by parents because many of them contain dangerous amounts of lead.
The recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission of the jewelry, which cost 25 cents to 75 cents and have been sold in 700,000 vending machines, comes after two earlier recalls of a total of 2.4 million pieces of similar jewelry over the last 10 months failed to curtail the problem.
One of the earlier recalls was prompted by a report that a 4-year-old Oregon boy suffered lead poisoning last year after swallowing a pendant he bought for a quarter in a gumball machine.
The boy had 12 times the acceptable level of lead in his body, his parents have said.
Hal Stratton, chairman of the safety commission, said tests of some jewelry indicated lead concentration levels by weight as high as 69 percent.
By comparison, Mr. Stratton said, the government prohibits the sale of paint that contains more than 0.06 percent lead.
Studies have consistently found that even small amounts of lead ingested by children can cause permanent neurological damage or behavior or learning problems. In recent decades, the incidence of lead poisoning has been reduced by regulations removing it from such products as paint and gasoline. But officials at the commission said Wednesday that its prevalence in a ubiquitous product like jewelry prompted the agency to act swiftly.
The toy jewelry is made in India. It is imported by four companies - A.A. Global Industries of Cockeysville, Md.; Brand Imports of Scottsdale, Ariz.; the Cardinal Distribution Company of Baltimore; and L.M. Becker of Kimberly, Wis., - and represents about 90 percent of toy jewelry found in vending machines. In a letter to the commission, the companies said that they had "stopped the importation of all toy jewelry with lead.''
"The companies are committed to reaching an agreement with C.P.S.C. staff on a level of lead in toy jewelry that will not harm children,'' the letter said.
The companies reached a settlement last week with the commission to stop importing jewelry with lead into the United States until they reached a separate agreement with the agency over acceptable lead levels in toys.
Two of the importers-L.M. Becker and Brand Imports - had agreed to the earlier recalls.
Mr. Stratton said that the commission had found that the importers relied on erroneous laboratory testing that concluded that the toy jewelry was safe. He said that the companies swiftly agreed to the recall after being presented with the agency's own laboratory testing. He said that the industry's own laboratory test had concluded that jewelry that was plated would not be dangerous.
"But it failed to note that it still leaches,'' he said, referring to lead.
"There is actually a lot of success in this story,'' Mr. Stratton said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. "We've caught the problem before any known significant damage, and the companies have agreed to the heartburn of a recall and have cooperated fully.''
The importers were advised by Nancy Harvey Steorts, a chairman of the commission in the Reagan administration. Ms. Steorts said the industry had volunteered to recall all of the products off the market, even though about half of them contained no significant levels of lead.
"In the interests of safety,'' she said, "we agreed to take it all back because it was difficult for consumers to know the difference between those items that have lead and those that don't have lead.''
Carol Pilch, a lawyer representing the companies, said they had already removed from the market all but about two million pieces of jewelry. Ms. Pilch said that about 14 million pieces had either been in the machines or on their way when the companies began to remove them and that the rest were already sold. She also said that, on AVERAGE, consumers held the items for about two weeks.
Neither Ms. Steorts nor Ms. Pilch would discuss the laboratory test conducted by the industry that Mr. Stratton said had yielded erroneous conclusions about the safety of the jewelry. They would also not say how much the recall would cost the industry. The market value of the 14 million pieces of jewelry removed from the machines and distribution channels is $3.5 million to $10.5 million.
Ms. Pilch said there had been no complaints of injuries involving any of the jewelry.
Mr. Stratton urged parents to search their children's toys for metal jewelry and throw it away.
Officials said the jewelry included a variety of styles of rings, necklaces and bracelets. The rings are usually gold or silver in color. The necklaces typically have black cords or are gold or silver in color; other pieces are charm bracelets and bracelets with medallion links or fake stones.
Written by: The New York Times
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