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Parents of young children have been rummaging through toy boxes, trying to get rid of lead-tainted toys. The recall included some Fisher-Price and Thomas the Tank Engine Toys along with 100,000 pieces of kids' jewelry. And that's just a short list. The products were all made in China. They contained lead, an element that can lead to lower IQs and other problems in young children.
Now, NPR's Wendy Kaufman has this report.
WENDY KAUFMAN: We begin with the fact that may surprise you. Except in the state of Illinois, it is not illegal to sell toys that have been recalled. Right now, companies whose products have been recalled must notify their distributors or retailers. But not everyone gets the message or takes action. And in general, there's little the federal government can do. The Consumer Products Safety Commission doesn't have much enforcement authority. It's underfunded and understaffed. There are just 100 inspectors for the whole country.
This weekend, Seattle members of the Washington Toxics Coalition went shopping for toys and jewelry so they could test them for lead.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIREN FROM A FIRETRUCK TOY)
KAUFMAN: This firetruck purchased at a local K-Mart contained some lead, but less than the federal limit of 600 parts per million. But other items tested with a special x-ray gun had dangerous levels of lead.
IVY SAGER: So this giraffe has lead at 6,734 parts per million.
KAUFMAN: That's 10 times the allowable amount, explains Ivy Sager-Rosenthal of the Toxics Coalition.
SAGER: That's really inexcusable. And the size of these figures clearly kids can put these in their mouth.
KAUFMAN: Kids also put jewelry in their mouths, and some of the pendants tested contained very high levels of lead. Those pendants were relatively pricey and came from well-known stores.
Currently, there is no formal limit on the amount of lead in kids' jewelry. There are only guidelines. And 20 percent of the jewelry collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission over the past several months contained dangerous amounts of lead.
SCOTT WOLFSON: It has reached a point where we need a ban in place of any dangerous children's metal jewelry and that is what we are working on right now.
KAUFMAN: Scott Wolfson is the spokesman for the CPSC.
WOLFSON: It would just send a much clearer message to this industry, to the Chinese manufacturers, that we are extremely concerned.
KAUFMAN: But the agency's proposed rule on kids' jewelry probably won't be adopted until next year. Though Congress could mandate the changes sooner. In the meantime, the CPSC has asked Congress to get the agency more overall enforcement authority and to increase the fines it can impose.
The state of California isn't waiting for the federal government to act. On September 1st, the sale of kids' jewelry containing excessive amounts of lead will be banned. A related legal settlement with dozens of major retailers also goes into effect.
Charles Margulis of the Center for Environmental Health says stiff fines can be imposed on those retailers if they sell lead-painted kids jewelry.
CHARLES MARGULIS: What it really comes down to is that if a store has a product on the shelf, they're responsible for the safety of their product. And if that means that they have to demand testing and standards from their suppliers, then that's what they have to do.
KAUFMAN: Manufacturers make toys and kids' jewelry for a worldwide market. If they can't sell them in California's vast market place, they just might reduce the amount of lead they use, at least that's what public health advocates are hoping for.
Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.
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