RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now to toys. In suburban Chicago, a toy company is reeling from last week's recall of one of its most popular products, Thomas the Tank Engine. The company, RC2, began voluntarily recalling some of the popular wooden railway toys because the Chinese factory that makes them used lead paints. Parents are outraged, not just about the possibility of lead poisoning, but that the problem went undiscovered for so long. NPR's David Schaper reports.
SCHAPER: Three-year-old James Davern is rifling through a toy box in search of his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine toys.
(Soundbite of James)
SCHAPER: Mom Heather Davern says the Northwest Side Chicago family has probably spent hundreds of dollars on this Thomas stuff over the last couple of years, for James, five-year-old sister Adie, and some will soon be passed on to one-year-old Ian. But not all the toys. Big sister Addie explains.
Ms. ADDIE DAVERN: We have to get rid of this one.
SCHAPER: Why do you have to get rid of that one?
Ms. A. DAVERN: Because it has dangerous paint on it.
SCHAPER: Oak Brook, Illinois-based RC2 recalled some 1.5 million Thomas and Friends toys because the factory in China RC2 contracts with to manufacture them used lead in some of the red and yellow paints coating the toys between January of 2005 and April of this year. That upsets Heather Davern, because she says her kids play with these toys constantly.
Ms. HEATHER DAVERN: You can see how warm they gets. And when they come out and say that there's possibly lead paint on it, that's worn out, because he's been playing with it and chewing on it and the paint is chipped.
SCHAPER: James was just tested for lead in March and the results came back normal. Addie will be tested this summer before entering kindergarten. But even good results don't quell Davern's concerns.
Ms. H. DAVERN: You think that when you're buying a high-end toy like a Thomas Tank Engine train that you're getting something that has gone through all the proper channels to make sure that it's a safe toy.
SCHAPER: Davern calls it archaic to have to worry about lead paint in toys, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission says that is just one of several problems tied to the booming increase of manufactured products coming into the U.S. from China.
Mr. SCOTT WILSON (Consumer Product Safety Commission): So far in 2007, 60 percent of the recalls we have conducted are of products made in China.
SCHAPER: Scott Wilson is a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Mr. WILSON: We have done 24 recalls of toys. All of those products have been made in China.
SCHAPER: And just as troubling to some is the corporate response. Toy company RC2 has only issued a brief statement, saying its own thorough investigation identified the lead paint and it has implemented a corrective action plan. But RC2 officials refused interview requests, so we couldn't ask why it took nearly two and a half years to discover the lead paint and what the corrective action plan entails.
HIT Entertainment, the British media company that owns the Thomas name and licensed it to RC2, only added a brief statement late Thursday, saying we appreciate our customers' concerns and we are working with RC2 to ensure that customers are informed and that all affected products are recalled swiftly.
Professor TIM CALKINS (Northwestern University): That's probably the most shocking thing about this story to date.
SCHAPER: Tim Calkins, professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, says the response - or lack thereof - goes against the conventional wisdom in crisis management.
Prof. CALKINS: Historically, if you are straight with consumers and you say, yes, we've had a slip-up and here's what we're doing to fix it, you know, often brands get through crises.
SCHAPER: Calkins says to not communicate more could be dangerous because parents will now be linking a brand that had been associated with learning and positive child development with something very harmful to child development. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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